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Match Analysis

No 'short' cuts: How teams have attacked KKR with the back of length deliveries and what is the way out

Daniel Vettori, Ian Bishop analyse after Knight Riders' latest failure against Lucknow Super Giants

ESPNcricinfo experts Daniel Vettori and Ian Bishop have raised questions over the ability of Kolkata Knight Riders' batters to counter the short ball, after Lucknow Super Giants' fast bowlers used that weapon to telling effect against them on Saturday night.
The pace quartet of Mohsin Khan, Dushmantha Chameera, Avesh Khan and Jason Holder shared eight wickets during Super Giants' 75-run win in Pune, and of those eight wickets, six came off short or short-of-good-length balls, according to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data. The pitch at the MCA Stadium made the short ball particularly tricky to counter, with the ball sitting up steeply but also losing pace off the surface, and Super Giants' quicks exploited the conditions expertly.
It wasn't the first time this season that a team had exposed Knight Riders' vulnerability against the short ball. Gujarat Titans, for instance, had executed a similar gameplan to perfection while defending 156. In all, Knight Riders have lost 29 wickets against short or short-of-good-length balls from fast bowlers this season, which is by far the most of any team.
Knight Riders' average (13.00) and scoring rate (6.71 per over) against the shorter lengths, meanwhile, are both the worst of any team this season.
Vettori suggested that those numbers would look even worse if the record of Andre Russell - who top-scored for Knight Riders on Saturday with 45 off 19 balls - was taken out.
"If you took [Russell's numbers] out - because he still has the ability to hit sixes and fours from the short balls - it looks like the rest of the batsmen actually don't have any scoring shots at all when they get short," Vettori said during his post-match analysis on the show T20 Time Out.
"[…] Obviously it's a concern, because when other teams just have a simple gameplan of bowling short to you, and it can be as effective as those numbers suggest, then it is difficult to come back from that."
And knowing those numbers, Vettori said, would only give bowlers the confidence to stick to their gameplan even if it doesn't immediately come off.
"When you know those numbers and you have a gameplan, you're prepared to keep going back to it and you're confident in it, and therefore if you do get it wrong, you still have the confidence to go again," he said. "Because sometimes, when you have a short-ball plan and a couple get away on you and they go top-edge for six or four, then you retreat, but I think with a team like KKR, when those numbers are presented the way they are, you've just got to keep coming and coming, so it's a confidence, it's an encouragement, and it's an overall gameplan and a style of bowling that suited LSG, but I think, more than anything, it's the fact that they can just keep coming because they know KKR are susceptible."
Bishop, harking back to his fast-bowling days, put it more simply.
"You go hunting, you just go hunting," he said. "You smell blood, it's like you smell blood and you just feel that you're in a zone, you see a target in front of you, that you're very confident about, and you'll probably get one or two too short, one or two too wide, but as a fast bowler, this sort of target is what you live for."
Shreyas Iyer, Knight Riders' captain, was a high-profile victim of the short ball, caught at square leg after getting cramped by a ball from Chameera that climbed towards his helmet. It was the fourth time a short or short-of-length ball had dismissed him this season, and those dismissals do not include Knight Riders' match against Sunrisers Hyderabad on April 15, when Umran Malik discomfited him with a series of short balls before bowling him with a searing yorker.
On Saturday, Avesh dismissed Nitish Rana in much the same manner. Bishop picked out both Iyer and Rana as batters who needed to work on their game against the short ball.
"Yeah, the doubts [about Iyer's game against the short ball] are there, and the doubts are legitimate, to be quite honest with you," he said. "His discomfort against the short ball - he went up against Umran Malik and he looked uncomfortable when they played Sunrisers Hyderabad - but he's not the only one.
"Nitish Rana is someone as well that the questions, in my mind, have been there for a while as well. There's a certain level of bowling that they both are comfortable against, and there is no disgrace, I suppose, to put it that way, there's a weakness there against fast bowling, and it's being exploited, and they just have to be better, but that is a high-quality LSG bowling attack."
Iyer, Vettori warned, would have to prepare to face more of this gameplan against other teams with strong pace attacks.
"Well, there's no respite against a team like Lucknow, that's the thing," he said. "If you think of other sides within the IPL who may be more spin-dominant, then you do get the opportunity for those batsmen to flourish in those certain conditions, so how do they get their way out of it?
"It's incredibly tricky in the middle of a season. I think someone like Shreyas Iyer, who obviously has international aspirations, will work incredibly hard on it. I think that will be the focal point of his training going forward, because we've seen it from players before, and they've managed to get themselves out of it, and you get yourself out of it with a couple of confident strokes, it's as simple as that.
"Once you do that, then teams retreat a little bit and look for other avenues, but at this stage they don't look confident against the short ball, so it just keeps coming."
Asked what methods Iyer could potentially employ to counter the short ball in the future, Vettori said evading it could be one option.
"I think he can leave it alone," Vettori said. "In a lot of ways, I think if he gets under the short ball a couple of times comfortably or sways it, then that's just as off-putting for a bowler as him hitting it for four or six, because they realise there's a comfort level as a batter.
"At the moment, he looks like he's being wildly aggressive to it to take it on, and he may top-edge one, or he may actually get hold of one, but I still think that gives the bowler the confidence to keep coming back. It's the look of a batsman, but if someone gets under a short ball well or evades it well, then you look for other tactics to try and get him out rather than continually going to that."
Bishop, however, felt the demands of T20 would not allow batters to keep leaving the short ball, even with just one bouncer allowed per over.
"This particular format has a few more challenges because, let's say I'm bowling to a Daniel Vettori. I've got my target, I'm going maybe just into the chest or the shoulder - I'm not getting it too high where I utilise my one [bouncer] for the over, so I'm getting it right, so there's only so much you can leave in a T20 match, so at some point, Shreyas [will have to find attacking responses too] - because look at Andre Russell.
"Once Andre Russell started playing that [pull] shot it became a little harder [to bowl short at him…] At some point in a T20 game you're going to have to do that, or sway away and ramp, or maybe just allow one or two to go past - it's a little bit more complicated in the shortest format, but Shreyas has to find a way to look more competent against it, be able to score off it, but in a sensible manner, or a low-risk manner, if such a thing exists."
He was confident, though, that Iyer possesses the quality to come up with such a response. "Shreyas has got to find a way, he's good enough to find a way, and he'll find a way in time, because everyone will keep coming at him. They've already started doing it."

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo