It's winner takes all, or at least a big step towards the IPL 2021 final, here in the Eliminator between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kolkata Knight Riders in Sharjah. Virat Kohli's Royal Challengers had the better time of it in the league stage, winning nine of their 14 games to finish third, while Eoin Morgan's Knight Riders were fourth with seven wins. Their head-to-head record this season is 1-1, and there's little to choose, in terms of form and results, between the two sides at the moment.
And if you're in the USA, you can watch the match live on ESPN+ both in English and in Hindi.
Experience does it
What a turnaround this continues to be for KKR. Began the UAE leg in seventh place and now they're one win away from a shot at the title. And this win was a true testament to their method: all the attacking had been done up front, and Narine's promotion up the order meant there wasn't much left to do at the end other than some sensible batting from two leaders in Eoin Morgan and Shakib Al Hasan. A team that continues to innovate and push the boundaries in the IPL, squeezing out the best from everyone they employ. And now, looking like the team to beat with 6 wins out of 8 in the UAE. Delhi Capitals won't have it easy in Sharjah when they come back for Qualifier 2.
At the other end is both an end and a beginning for RCB. Virat Kohli relinquishes captaincy and RCB go out in a manner that has become synonymous with them through his time. He might have been itching to go out with a title, but the high for him as captain will continue to remain the 2016 season when they made the final in a season in which he made 973 runs. It's been up and down, but for the most part the same flavour for RCB since then with the reliance on a top-heavy batting. A poor over from an overseas allrounder has haunted them before and it does yet again, even in a year when they had managed to make serious amends to their death-bowling woes. Tonight, of course, that wasn't the issue. The batting came apart against some top-tier bowling and they have been ousted by one of the great all-round performances in the history of this tournament. Kohli says he'll be back for RCB next season, and will see out his career with them. It will be in an entirely new environment when it does happen.
That is all from the Live Blog tonight. Thanks for joining us and we'll see you soon.
One to retain?
It's him again
It's borderline amusing at this point. The Sunil Narine batting experiment is done for the most part - teams have figured him out, he no longer opens innings for KKR or anywhere else. He doesn't often bat too much lately. But against RCB, he is <;b>always</b> a good bet. This is a team that hasn't been able to figure him out for four years now. Look at the numbers below (when Narine was batting on 21 off 7) to see how much bigger Narine becomes against RCB in comparison to the rest of his career.
The reverse sweep
The only time Royal Challengers looked close to dominant against spin during their batting innings is when AB de Villiers brought out the reverse sweep against Sunil Narine for the boundary. And in this innings for KKR, Nitish Rana has brought it out to perfect effect against Glenn Maxwell. The best players of spin on tough surfaces are those with both fast hands and fast feet. The reverse sweep in T20 cricket is a new addition to that old adage, and those who have used the reverse sweep successfully tonight have endorsed it.
Both teams used the powerplay well tonight
Harshal closes in
What now for RCB?
The lowest total defended in Sharjah this season is 125 by Punjab Kings against a shaky Sunrisers Hyderabad. They might have had their sights set on 160 - the score they've gotten twice here - after the powerplay, and perhaps on 150 before Narine's last over began. With him out of the picture now, 140 might be the most realistic score they're hoping for. Even that will be tricky. Can their spinners manage to have anything close to the control of KKR's in the second innings? Batting has tended to get easier in the second innings.
Dismissing Bharat, Kohli, AB, Maxwell in a knockout game: clutch
Simply sensational stuff from Narine tonight. He's landing the offbreaks to perfection - the pace on them, the revolutions, the line. Everything is bang on, like at his peak. When you've managed to stop the scoring flow, every ball at the stumps that is turning into the right-hander is a potential wicket because it is the line that tempts batters to go across the line when looking for a release shot or a cheeky run. That's how Kohli fell, and that's how AB has fallen as well. That period after the powerplay when RCB didn't show any urgency for boundaries can come back to haunt them big time later on.
Not long now for the World Cup to begin and West Indies have a tough four or five days before the deadline if they're still thinking of leaving him out. Although the reason is that he failed the fitness test, so how hard can we go at them?
The squeeze begins
Looking at RCB's best powerplay performances this season and there's a very strange pattern there. Five of their top six powerplay performances - including tonight - have come at two grounds. Mumbai and Sharjah. Something about those two venues don't add up...
Tonight is also the battle of two captains who haven't been at their best with the bat this season. MS Dhoni is part of that little group as well, but he managed to channel his best last evening. It is a great time for turnarounds. Kohli and Morgan turning it around on the same evening could result in some high-quality cricket tonight.
So it seems Russell is not fit enough to make this XI, which means KKR will be playing with three spinners. It might also have contributed to Kohli deciding to bat first - things are a little more comfortable when you don't have to bowl at Russell at the death. It is also a bit of an unthinkable for long-term RCB fans that one of the strengths of this team is death-overs bowling; a decision to defend a total would have seemed otherworldly in any of the past seasons. But they've sorted that out well enough over the last year or two that they can confidently put their bowlers under the pump.
It is a bit strange to hear Kohli say that chasing is hard in Sharjah, however. There is evidence from this season to say it might be the other way - five have won chasing, three have lost - because this has been a pitch with only four innings where teams have not lost more than four wickets. All four of them have been in the second innings. The decision to bat is, perhaps, more of a nod to batting first in clutch games and to the aforementioned bowling strength.
Will Russell be back?
We have glimpses of Andre Russell warming up with the ball. There's no understating the effect he has to a team that thrives on going all-out attack, basically in a manner that gives Russell about 20 balls every innings to turn on his magic. But with time on the sidelines, and on this Sharjah pitch, will he be able to come straight back in and be the match-winner he is? There is a case to make that Shakib Al Hasan on this pitch is the much better bowling choice on balance. KKR already have the best mystery spinners in the league to exploit this pitch, and a third spinner is quite the luxury. But in a high-stakes match like this, which could well go down to the last few overs, there are few players in the world you want over Russell in your corner.
This has possibly been one of the most sedate IPL seasons in terms of qualifications for the playoffs. By the time the second half had begun, the top three teams were so far ahead that the battle really only came down to one spot. And in that spot, consistently, were Kolkata Knight Riders. Their high-risk strategy ensured they had a good net run-rate heading into the back end of the tournament - the very thing they lacked as they missed out on qualification the last two seasons. With that out of the way though, and with MS Dhoni and Co. signaling the proper start of a high-stakes phase, tonight's going to be massive for them. From here on, there is no other path than winning everything.
So, too, is the case for Royal Challengers who have a few sub-plots running. On the one hand is yet another sniff at a maiden title. On the other are more existential questions - if they lose tonight, it will be the end of an era under Virat Kohli. And what of AB de Villiers? Will he back next season for RCB? Will Chahal? Start to think of this as potentially the last game for many of those players (on both sides) and you can go down a wholly emotional, nostalgic path tonight. But that will just be us over here. It is crunch time for the players.