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Match Analysis

How Knight Riders fumbled against the genius of Yuzvendra Chahal

Knight Riders' batters had gone after Chahal earlier, but in the 17th over, they ended up not sticking with percentages

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
At the Brabourne on Monday, Jos Buttler faced nine balls from Sunil Narine. In an innings that he hit a boundary every four balls, he tried not one off Narine. He attempted nine singles off Narine, managed only five, but didn't play a shot in anger.
It was clear that on such a good batting pitch he was not going to give Narine a chance to get him out. He wanted to maximise his impact by not just scoring fast but also batting long enough and punishing the other bowlers.
Narine ended the night with figures of 4-0-21-2 with batters going after him only in his last two overs, and that too batters other than Buttler. It was an exceptional spell in which Narine showed phenomenal control on his lengths and cleverly mixed the amount of action he put on the ball.
Yet let us take a look at the impact of the wickets he took. In Narine's second over, Devdutt Padikkal took the onus of hitting him upon himself. He hit one six, but then fell to a beautifully disguised knuckle-ball legcutter that came out of the hand slower than expected. ESPNcricinfo's smart stats predicted a score of 194 for Rajasthan Royals just before the dismissal. The wicket brought it down to 191. When Riyan Parag tried to hit out in the 18th over - Narine's last - the predicted score came down from 225 to 223.
Royals basically asked either the dispensable batters to go after Narine or did so at times when losing a wicket wouldn't have a big impact on their progress.
Now you might say there is a lot of hindsight involved here, but when Yuzvendra Chahal began the 17th over of the second innings, Kolkata Knight Riders were 65.79% favourites to win. But by the end of it, they had a 9.49% chance.
In the Knight Riders' dugout, though, it was clear that over shouldn't have gone down the way it did. "Probably with four overs to go, we were firmly in the driver's seat," their coach Brendon McCullum said. "Then a couple of silly mistakes and just not handling the pressure as well as we should have cost us the game.
"Forty off four with six wickets in hand, we were still very much in charge of the game. Credit to Chahal, he is just an absolute brilliant bowler. [He is] one of those guys, pressure situations don't bother him. We talked extensively in the meetings about how he was such a threat, and that we didn't want to give him wickets during key moments of games.
"I think if we had our time again, we'd probably look to play that over a bit differently. We saw the impact you could have had against the seamers in the last couple of overs with the ball sliding on."
It was perhaps the way the wickets fell that irked McCullum more. Venkatesh Iyer and Shreyas Iyer both charged at him, and were beaten in the flight before falling respectively to a wrong'un and a legbreak. McCullum would have probably taken 36 off three overs rather than these attempts at hitting sixes.
Having seen two wickets fall, though, McCullum still had hope to cling on to. Pat Cummins owns the joint-fastest fifty in all of IPL, which he hit earlier in this competition. Cummins was slated to come in at the fall of Shreyas' wicket, but his record against spin is precisely what keeps him from becoming an allrounder. In all T20 cricket, he averages 10.75 against spin at a strike rate of 87.75 as against 20.7 and 155.71 against pace.
McCullum wanted to maximise his pace-hitting so he sought to protect him from Chahal. So out came Shivam Mavi ahead of Cummins with one ball to defend and then a free hit available off the last ball against Chahal. Mavi, though, had an almighty swipe at the first ball he faced, bringing Cummins out to face the last ball of the over.
Cummins was expecting the wrong'un, but Chahal was actually not even desperate for the hat-trick. Even here, Royals were taking the more pragmatic option. Chahal said later he would have been happy with a dot, but he didn't want to give Cummins anything in his wheelhouse by turning in.
His memories of the Lucknow Super Giants game were still fresh where he got greedy in the 18th over, ending it with a googly to the No. 10, who smacked it for a six. It took debutant Kuldeep Sen to bowl under pressure in the last over to defend the score.
So here we had a strange instance of the side ahead in the game playing lower percentages and the side needing to make all the play sticking with percentages. However, there were circumstances at play there. Knight Riders' bowling attack is not in great form, so it is easier to isolate one bowler because you can make up for it against the others.
If Knight Riders were the favourites, needing 40 in the last four, part of it was because they had gone after Chahal earlier. Unlike Narine, Chahal was having an ordinary night when he began the final over. To say they should have now played him out is convenient and selective. It does sound funny to ask your set batters to play out a bowler whose figures read 3-0-38-1.
McCullum, though, knows the genius of Chahal. "You can't allow good players like Chahal to enter the game when there's pressure on," he said. "They are just far too good. We played a good game of cricket but we made a couple of silly mistakes. Jos Buttler got a hundred, Yuzi Chahal got a five-for including a hat-trick, and we lost by just seven runs. So we played a good game, but we ran second."
If Knight Riders give up the freedom they play with, they wouldn't be the mavericks that T20 hipsters like. McCullum will be the last one to want to curb that, but he will probably ask them to think what some of the T20 greats - think Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Andre Russell - would have done in that over.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo