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Did Dhoni feed Rana's strengths?

Also, should Ruturaj Gaikwad have played the full season?

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Nitish Rana acknowledges his dugout on reaching his fifty  •  BCCI

Nitish Rana acknowledges his dugout on reaching his fifty  •  BCCI

The talking points from the 49th game of IPL 2020 between Kolkata Knight Riders and Chennai Super Kings
Did MS Dhoni feed Nitish Rana's strengths?
The Knight Riders decided to bring in an extra batsman, Rinku Singh, and fielded him at No. 4 after Sunil Narine's innings lasted only seven balls as a pinch-hitting No. 3. Both of those moves appeared to be a clear ploy to stack the batting line-up with left-handers against the Super Kings' three spinners, all of whose stock balls turn into the left-handers: Mitchell Santner, Karn Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja.
Rather than changing his plans by using seamers through the middle overs, Dhoni instead asked his bowlers to spear the balls in at the pads, with both left-arm spinners operating from round the wicket and bowling quickly.
While that worked well enough against Narine and Singh, both of whom scored at a strike rate of 100, it fed Rana's strengths: across this season, he has scored at a strike rate of 159.8 against spin, compared to 124.0 against seam, and has averaged almost twice as much. That was particularly apparent in the 16th over, when Dhoni gambled by giving Sharma his final over: Rana promptly struck each of his first three balls for six.
Why did Dinesh Karthik shift down the order?
Karthik's batting position has been a point of contention throughout this season, with plenty wondering why he had been coming in at No. 4. Tonight, he shifted down to No. 6 and the move paid off: he struck three boundaries in his new role, leading the Knight Riders to a competitive 172 with a late cameo of 21 off 10 balls.
In fact, the better question may be why the Knight Riders persevered with Karthik so high up the order for so much of this tournament. When he has come in inside the first 14 overs this season, he has averaged 18.88 with a strike rate of 127.8; coming in during the final six, he has averaged 50.5 and struck at 183.6.
Why did Rana bowl?
Singh's inclusion at the expense of Prasidh Krishna meant that the Knight Riders had only five frontline bowlers in their XI, as they again struggled to find the right balance with Andre Russell unavailable through injury. With the Super Kings creeping to 58 for 1 after nine overs and both Varun Chakravarthy and Narine proving economical early on, Eoin Morgan threw the ball to Rana in the hope of squeezing in a cheap over and giving himself additional flexibility among his frontline bowlers.
Ambati Rayudu was new to the crease, having scored four runs from his first five balls, but did what the best T20 batsmen do and decided to take on the part-time spinner. He struck him for three consecutive fours, injecting some impetus into the chase, and took the Super Kings' win probability from 26.85% at the start of the over to 43.52% at its end, according to ESPNcricinfo's Forecaster.
In fact, Russell's absence was particularly apparent when compared this match to the Knight Riders' first fixture against the Super Kings this season. On that occasion, Karthik held his spinners back in the absence of dew, and tied the Super Kings down in the second half of the innings before Russell bowled two crucial overs at the death; tonight, Morgan had to bowl his spinners earlier on with dew coming into play, and had to rely on his three main seamers to finish things off.
What happened to Lockie Ferguson?
After a return of 5 for 62 in 12 overs across his first three games of the tournament - plus a vital Super Over - Ferguson has tailed off since, recording 1 for 32 against Kings XI Punjab and then 0 for 54 in his spell tonight.
Perhaps some of that change can be attributed to dew: Morgan said it was "extremely challenging" from the eighth over onwards, and Ferguson bowled three full tosses, including a no-ball. He also found himself having to bowl in the powerplay for the first time tonight, due to the Knight Riders' decision to field only five frontline bowlers. Finally, the pitches have not suited his length balls: in his first three games, he conceded 21 runs from 22 length balls, compared to 26 from 9 in his last two
Should Ruturaj Gaikwad have played the full season?
It is easy to be critical with the benefit of hindsight, but Gaikwad's second consecutive match award made a mockery of Dhoni's comments earlier in the tournament that the Super Kings' young players hadn't shown the "spark" they needed to. Indeed, it felt almost surreal to think that M Vijay and Kedar Jadhav had played eight and three games this season respectively, with Gaikwad playing only his fifth tonight.
In fact, Dhoni said in the post-match presentation that Gaikwad had taken longer than expected to recover after testing positive with Covid-19 shortly before the tournament, which might be part of the reason behind his exclusion. Either way, he has shown plenty in his last two innings to suggest that he will be an excellent IPL batsman moving forwards; his checked punch for six off Chakravarthy in the sixth over was one of the shots of the tournament.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98