Match Analysis

The Little known heroes who bailed Rashid Khan out

The Afghanistan spin ace had a bad day, but his team-mates Josh Little and Noor Ahmad covered for him beautifully

Sreshth Shah
Sreshth Shah
On most days, Rashid Khan's performance mirrors the performance of the team he represents. But this time it didn't. Against Kolkata Knight Riders, he conceded 54 runs in his four overs - 23 in his first spell and 31 in his second. And still ended up on the winning side. There were two reasons for this, and their names are Noor Ahmad and Josh Little.
Knight Riders will be hard pressed to explain how it all happened. Rahmanullah Gurbaz had got on top of Rashid early. He was in the form of his life, actually charging towards a hundred. But the problem was, nobody stuck around to help him, and in the end, after being put in to bat, they could only muster up 179 for 7.
Titans were thrilled, and once again they had unheralded talents working incredibly well together. Noor and Little bowled eight overs for 46 runs and four wickets. That combined economy rate of 5.75 and the quality of the Knight Riders batters they dismissed effectively bailed Rashid out, and despite his off day, gave Titans the upper hand at the end of their bowling innings. It was an advantage they held on to right till they hit the winning runs 90 minutes later.
It started off with Little frustrating Gurbaz by getting length balls to go across the right-hander. While Gurbaz was timing the other Titans bowlers beautifully, he struggled against the Irish left-arm seamer who did well to mix his cutters and stock deliveries. Little gave away only ten runs in his first two overs, and by the time he came onto bowl his third, he had frustrated the Knight Riders batters enough that they began taking a few risks. A couple of them didn't come off - Venkatesh Iyer lbw attempting the scoop and Nitish Rana finding the fielder at point - and suddenly he had two wickets in four balls.
Even though Little conceded 12 in his final over later on, his match haul of 2 for 25 earned him the Player-of-the-Match award.
"I just spoke to Hardik [Pandya] before we played and just talked about keeping it as simple as possible on this pitch, just bowling hard lengths," Little said after the game. "Just smashing it back of a length and let the ball do the talking."
Noor was having an even better day because everyone, including Gurbaz, struggled for fluency against him. He got length balls to fizz across right-handers' bodies after pitching on leg stump, and teased left-handers with deliveries that tested both edges.
One such delivery even picked off Rinku Singh, but the moment of the innings was when Noor ended Gurbaz's blitz on 81, caught in the deep by a sliding Rashid in what was an all-Afghan affair. Gurbaz was on his knees, having thrown away a great opportunity to continue hitting, while Noor ran across to Rashid to celebrate.
"Noor and Rashid have a very good rapport," Vijay Shankar told reporters after the game. "They communicate very well in their own language.
"Rashid had an off day but Rashid was still communicating with Noor today. And Noor was doing it for the team. The communication that Rashid and Noor had actually helped Noor come out and do well on this type of surface. The best thing about our team is that even last game Abhinav [Manohar] came in and batted brilliantly. That's the biggest plus point we have. Everyone is stepping up when the game is in a difficult situation. Noor and Little did exactly what the team needed."
Shankar's own 24-ball unbeaten 51 showed that the pitch offered enough rewards for those willing to play good shots. The rest of the Titans batters - plus Gurbaz and Andre Russell for Knight Riders - showed evidence of that too. But when Iyer, Rana and Rinku faced Little and Noor, they struggled. Even Gurbaz struggled when Little and Noor operated, even though his overall strike rate was 207.
"I felt Noor and Little... they bowled really good lengths," Shankar said. "In any format, especially T20s, good length is a good option. That's why they call it a good length. It was just an off day for Rash. He has been the No. 1 bowler for whichever team he has played for. This is a great learning for us, to know what lengths to bowl on this kind of pitch. It was good to see someone else - Noor and Little today - step up."
Last season when Titans won the IPL title, eight different squad members picked up Player-of-the-Match awards. This season, in six wins, they have five different award winners already, with three of them bowlers. And when Titans cruise to victory with Rashid having one of his worst days, it only spells trouble for the teams they are up against next.
"I feel that's the biggest strength we have," Shankar said. "We have five-six regular bowlers who are doing it again and again. If someone is going for runs, there is another guy coming in and getting you wickets. In most games, we are taking at least six wickets. That has been our strength.
"It is just about finding ways to come out good in every situation. The amount of practice we do is a lot. We actually do it for hours and hours. We find ways to come out good in difficult situations."

Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @sreshthx