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Tactics board: Bhuvneshwar vs Narine, Russell vs Klaasen, and the Head-Abhishek threat

Also, KKR might delay Russell's arrival as much as possible to see if SRH trust Vijayakanth Viyaskanth to bowl at him deep into the innings

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Bhuvneshwar Kumar removed David Warner in the first over, Delhi Capitals vs Sunrisers Hyderabad, IPL 2023, Delhi, April 29, 2023

Bhuvneshwar Kumar has kept Sunil Narine quiet in the powerplay: 31 balls, 34 runs and one dismissal  •  BCCI

Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) have had the two quickest-scoring seasons of all time in the IPL. They are unlikely to give up the spots playing the Qualifier 1 in a neutral match in Ahmedabad. Motera has not been among the quickest-scoring grounds this IPL, but it is also a function of the home team choosing to play on specific surfaces. When they have gone for a flat pitch, 200 has been chased down twice, and a 231 posted batting first. In the playoffs, under a BCCI curator, expect a similar high-scoring match. These are some of the tactics which KKR and SRH could employ.
Win the toss and bat
Two of the six matches in Ahmedabad have been won by teams batting first. Shubman Gill, the home team captain in Ahmedabad, has been pretty confident that the dew doesn't play an undue role there. Both the successful defences in Ahmedabad have come in night matches.
All these factors are enough to make you toss-agnostic, but one look at SRH's record this IPL will tell you they will want to bat first. They have won just three matches when chasing: first against Chennai Super Kings when they comfortably chased down 166, one a shellacking under 10 overs when they hunted down 166 against Lucknow Super Giants, and then chasing 215 against Punjab Kings in their last league match. They have been much more comfortable batting first and scoring massively. Their run rate batting first is 1.07 higher than when batting second. KKR are more evenly paced: 10.71 batting first, and 10.30 when chasing.
While KKR have a perfect record in three chases this IPL, six wins out of nine when defending is no mean feat too. In all likelihood, given their comfort doing either, KKR will like to deny SRH what they want to do.
Bowl Bhuvneshwar through powerplay
Sunil Narine has been the most valuable player of the IPL so far, and not just for his batting. Among those who have scored 400 or more runs, only two batters have been quicker than Narine. Although they haven't quite had a face-off this IPL, Bhuvneshwar Kumar has managed to keep Narine quiet in the powerplay: 31 balls, 34 runs and one dismissal.
In the absence of Phil Salt, SRH can go a long way if they can neutralise Narine or at least keep him quiet in the powerplay. Bhuvneshwar will also hope to get through to Shreyas Iyer and Venkatesh Iyer in the first spell: against Shreyas, he has three wickets in 49 balls for a strike rate of 89, while Venkatesh's strike rate against him is 88 even though he has never got out to Bhuvneshwar.
As a nice little bonus, Bhuvneshwar's record against Rahmanullah Gurbaz, the likely replacement for Salt, reads: four balls, zero runs and two wickets. This happened as recently as the two matches against KKR last year.
Tackling Head, Abhishek not so straightforward
If it wasn't for Abhishek Sharma dismantling spinners, it would have been easy to say KKR should open with one of their two in-form spinners: Narine and Varun Chakravarthy. However, Abhishek has been brutal against spin, which means the spinner has to be excellent with his control if he is used against Travis Head.
Will Jacks had success against Head by staying away from arc, which also holds for spinners against Abhishek. It helps that both of KKR's spinners can bowl offbreaks. It is worth giving one end to spin, but the bowler has to be spot on against these two batters.
With pace, teams have looked to contain Head and Abhishek by either placing their boundary riders at point and cover, or by placing a deep square cover and a deep midwicket, and attacking the stumps or the armpits. Vaibhav Arora's natural length does attack the top of stumps with some movement away from left-hand batters, which makes him an important part of KKR's plans. It is easier to shut off Abhishek with seam: bowl top of off. Head might need more defensive lines outside off.
Russell for Klaasen
Andre Russell has not bowled in the powerplay this IPL. Heinrich Klaasen, the foundation of the SRH middle order, has been explosive against spin and left-arm pace. So it follows that Russell will be saved for Klaasen. That was perhaps a mistake KKR made in the first match against SRH: Russell and Narine combined bowled just three overs at Klaasen, who went on to score 63 off 29 at Eden Gardens, and take SRH within one hit of winning.
Throw Viyaskanth at Russell
Not just Russell the bowler but also Russell the batter has also been key to KKR's success this season. His strike rate of 185 has given KKR the finishing kick they need. Russell has been in excellent form against all bowling types except legspin: 28 balls, 41 runs and one dismissal. There will be some cat and mouse game here: KKR might delay Russell's arrival as much as possible to see if SRH can trust Sri Lanka's youngster Vijayakanth Viyaskanth to bowl at Russell deep into the innings.

Sidharth Monga is a senior writer at ESPNcricinfo