The talking points from the IPL 2020 game between the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Delhi Capitals in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, October 24
Why did Narine bat ahead of Morgan, and why did it work?
When the Kolkata Knight Riders lost their third wicket in the eighth over, Anrich Nortje had bowled two and Kagiso Rabada was into his second. It was likely that their remaining four overs would be kept for the end and the Capitals would turn to a combination of their spinners, Tushar Deshpande and Marcus Stoinis for the middle overs. With express pace at bay, the Knight Riders smartly sent out Sunil Narine, who has a much better record against spinners than quick bowlers, ahead of Eoin Morgan at No. 5.
The Capitals then bowled R Ashwin, against whom both Nitish Rana and Narine had good records, followed by Deshpande and Stoinis. Both batsmen cashed in, tonking Ashwin for 30 in his first two overs. By the time Nortje was brought back in the 13th over, the stand was already worth 61 off 28 balls with seven fours and three sixes. They saw off Nortje's third over for eight runs, and then took on Stoinis and Ashwin again to reach a century stand off just 46 balls.
When Narine fell for a 32-ball 64 in the 17th over, the task of facing Rabada was in the more experienced hands of Morgan, who scored 17 off nine balls. Narine also confirmed in the innings break that the plan was always for him to bat just after the powerplay to upset the Capitals' bowling plans in the middle overs, and acknowledged it was good to get going against spin.
Why did Rana open the batting instead of Tripathi and Narine?
The Knight Riders have used four opening combinations so far this IPL. With Narine back in the XI, they had to pick the openers out of Shubman Gill, Rahul Tripathi and Narine, and they went with the least expected combination of Gill and Rana possibly because of the opposition bowlers, Narine's poor form while opening this IPL, and the need for a left-right combination at the top.
The left-right combination was worth a shot because the Capitals have been using left-arm spinner Axar Patel and Ashwin regularly in the powerplay and Rana could be useful against both, given he struck 19 off seven balls against Ashwin the last time these two teams met. Rana ha scored 58 off 35 in that game but since then he could manage only 54 runs in six subsequent innings at a strike rate of 98.20, so the Knight Riders gave him a new batting position and it paid off.
Did the Capitals try whatever they could against Rana and Narine?
Not really. They bowled express pace against Rana up front but without using the short-ball strategy. Since 2018, Rana has been dismissed six times against the short ball - the length that has troubled him the most in that period - with a strike rate of 122. The Capitals neither kept a short-ball field for Rana when Rabada and Nortje bowled, nor did they try to target his rib cage despite opting to bowl on a greenish pitch. When Deshpande tried a short ball against Rana in the 10th over, the pace wasn't that high, the bounce not nasty and Rana smote him over the shorter leg-side boundary for a six.
The Capitals also used two overs of Ashwin for the four overs that were bowled after Narine came out to bat, despite the dominating record both Rana and Narine have against the spinner. It meant Narine didn't face any express pace early on and instead got time to settle against spin. As a result, Narine smacked Ashwin for 32 runs off 11 balls and Rana collected 13 from seven balls.
Eventually, the Knight Riders scored 115 runs in the middle overs (seventh to 16th) - the second-highest in an innings this season, behind Kings XI Punjab's 118 against the Rajasthan Royals in Sharjah. The Capitals also didn't bowl Axar Patel at all in the middle overs.
Why did Axar Patel bowl only one over?
When Rana and Narine were going after all the bowlers in the middle overs, the Capitals didn't use Patel even once even though he has been one of their best this season, especially with his economical bowling in the first 10 overs. The initial thought must have been to avoid bowling left-arm spin to left-hand batsmen, but when you have made bowling changes in such a way that you can't use your express bowlers against two batsmen short of runs in the last few games, it was probably worth trying Patel for at least one over from the end where the leg side had the longer boundary.
Patel bowled just one over - the fifth - in the game for seven runs and it makes you wonder if the Capitals had the right strategy in place knowing that the Knight Riders had three left-hand batsmen in their top seven (Rana, Narine and Morgan).
Why didn't Ashwin bowl in the powerplay?
Ashwin had bowled in the powerplay in seven out of the eight games he had played before Saturday but Stoinis got the ball ahead of him possibly because of Ashwin's record against Rana. Apart from their head-to-head record in their last fixture, Rana has scored a total of 53 off 22 balls against Ashwin without getting dismissed in the IPL. That's Ashwin's second-worst record against a batsman with the worst being against Narine for 28 off 10 balls for zero dismissals, before this game (minimum 10 balls).
What's going on with Rishabh Pant?
One of the most destructive Indian T20 batsmen hasn't shown his true batting colours this IPL. Rishabh Pant's strike rate in IPL 2019 was 162.66, only behind Andre Russell's 204.81 and Hardik Pandya's 191.42 (minimum 250 runs) but this IPL it has plummeted to 117.29 after eight innings.
It's not like he hasn't had enough deliveries to score big; he has faced 20 or more balls in six innings out of nine, but there has been a clear fall in his boundary-hitting, striking only six sixes so far, less than one per innings. Pant has appeared more constrained this season, curbing his natural game, as if he has been told to play differently and not attack right from the beginning.
Mostly batting at No. 4, he hasn't been going after the bowling the way he is known to. He came out in the third over but was on 9 off 14 when the powerplay ended. He struck two fours against Lockie Ferguson's pace after that and ended up handing a catch on the leg side off Varun Chakravarthy for a 33-ball 27. His scoring rate has been so slow that only Aaron Finch and Shubman Gill have a lower strike rate than Pant among 27 batsmen who have faced 150-plus deliveries this season.
Vishal Dikshit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo