Why did Narine bowl so late?
Sunil Narine came on to bowl in the 12th over for the Kolkata Knight Riders against the Chennai Super Kings, when the partnership between Shane Watson and Ambati Rayudu was on 64 and CSK needed 74 to win in nine overs. Pat Cummins had just finished his fourth.
The delay in his bowling could not have been down to a match-up thing: before this game, Watson had made 88 off 83 Narine deliveries, with eight dismissals. Rayudu had scored 41 off 50 off him, with three dismissals. Clearly, they are not players who are very comfortable against Narine.
Which suggests that maybe the plan right from the start was to use Narine in the second half of the innings. We know he has supreme numbers against Dhoni, but surely you don't hinge your entire plan on that one match-up? What else could it have been, though? Perhaps the fact that the Knight Riders like using Cummins up front, which means the young fast bowlers have to bowl at the death alongside Andre Russell. Instead of handing them that responsibility entirely, it's possible they decided to give it to Narine instead.
The use of Varun Chakravarthy later on in the innings also suggests they might have felt there was something about the conditions that was aiding spin bowling. Chakravarthy got them Dhoni's wicket, which put serious pressure on CSK at the end of their chase and ultimately turned out to be the finishing touch on a fine tactical win, sealed by Narine's 19th that went for only 10 when 36 were required.
Why didn't Jadeja bowl, and why was Karn so effective?
It's feels out-of-character for CSK to not rely on spinners, and the numbers back up that feeling: out of 170 bowling innings in the IPL, only on 23 occasions - one of them being tonight - have they bowled only four overs of spin or fewer. It's also strange that none of those four overs tonight came from Ravindra Jadeja, presumably because there was a left-hand KKR batsman in at almost every stage before the slog overs tonight.
Legspinner Karn Sharma, meanwhile, did a tight job. He didn't bowl a single short ball according to ESPNcricinfo's length data and finished with 4-0-25-2 despite an expensive first over. It was a terrific return for the legspinner who is big in trivia contests because of how many IPL titles he has won (three in three years with Sunrisers, Mumbai and CSK), without ever being a sure-shot pick for any of his teams. Our data suggests he bowled on off stump or wider for the most part against right-hand batsmen today, so he was rarely in the hitting zone for them.
More impressively, left-handers had no hitting options against him either: he didn't concede a single boundary to left-handers and also got two of them out.
Why did KKR choose to bat?
They never do that. Well, not since May 2015 anyway. The last time was when Gautam Gambhir was still captain and Delhi were still the Daredevils.
This season too, they'd bowled on both occasions after winning the toss. Perhaps when you have batsmen like Andre Russell, Eoin Morgan and Dinesh Karthik - who has been a decent finisher himself over time even if he's not in the best of form at the moment - it is a tempting option to chase.
But then the batting hadn't quite fallen into place for them, in many ways. They were losing early wickets at the top and there hadn't been consistently memorable performances from the big names mentioned above. They lost chasing in Sharjah in their previous game, so perhaps that factored into the decision to bat today. Or it could just be simply that they were following the tide - captains have started batting first with success in this tournament, and it happened again tonight.
Why did Tripathi open, and was this the game to send Narine in at No. 4?
Rahul Tripathi took Narine's opening spot, and it worked out nicely enough for everyone involved. Tripathi has three fifties in his last four innings as an IPL opener, so it was justified that he was pushed up. There were several perplexed voices around - Ben Stokes among them - when Narine came in ahead of Morgan at No. 4, but Narine did a decent job of it, making 17 off 9. That said, should it have been in this match that Narine lost the opening spot?
Narine before Morgan???— Ben Stokes (@benstokes38) October 7, 2020
There isn't elite pace in the CSK line-up, the kind that troubles Narine the batsman a great deal, so in many ways KKR were blunting their own attack. But his 17 off 9 is an innings KKR would accept from him no matter where he's batting. He, a left-hand batsman, also ended up taking deliveries away from legspinner Karn Sharma, which was a bonus that KKR's right-handers didn't make use of later.
Why did Russell bowl only at the death?
That is Andre Russell's designated role this season. He's bowled 42 of his 60 deliveries after the 16th over so far, and his death-overs economy rate of 8.57 and five wickets show that it's a plan that's coming off for KKR.
They've tried various bowling strategies in the season already, including bowling six and seven bowlers. That depth in bowling is allowing them to bowl Pat Cummins out early on and attack top orders. And, so, it helps to have another seasoned fast bowler in Russell to take over at the death.
When he came on today, CSK had been rattled by the loss of Dhoni, but still needed only 13 an over with Sam Curran, Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja and Dwayne Bravo available. Russell's pace, direction and length - decidedly short, for all six balls of his first over - gave them no hitting oppportunity at all and effectively killed the game off as they got only three runs of that over.
Russell said later that he had decided to go only cross-seam at the end, because he'd assessed that that was difficult to put away based on the delivery that got him out earlier. Intuition and perception of that kind - and the skills to build a plan around it - could mean we'll see Russell don this role for a while yet, especially as KKR try to groom two young fast bowlers who they might not want to expose at the death.