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Match Analysis

Round Two: Andre Russell bosses the Kagiso Rabada tussle

The fast bowler had won last week's meeting with an inch-perfect Super Over yorker. How would it go this time?

Kagiso Rabada floored Andre Russell with a full toss that he played on to his body  •  BCCI

Kagiso Rabada floored Andre Russell with a full toss that he played on to his body  •  BCCI

When Kagiso Rabada geared up to bowl to Andre Russell, there was a nervous silence around Eden Gardens.
Last week, Russell had smashed 62 off 28 balls to help Knight Riders make 185 in Delhi, only to see the game go into the Super Over courtesy Prithvi Shaw's 99. In the Super Over, Rabada's knockout blow - an inch-perfect yorker - took out Russell's middle stump and left him on all fours. Capitals won the tight contest, and Rabada collected the bragging rights on the night.
In the 16th over of the return fixture in Kolkata, Rabada dismissed Dinesh Karthik with his first ball, caught at deep square leg. The batsmen crossed over, and it was time for Round Two of Rabada v Russell. Here was a man who was dominating every fast bowler in the IPL this season, facing the one person who had his number. The scene was set for another remarkable contest between two of the most exciting players in world cricket.
Russell went on the offensive immediately. Rabada provided a bit of width first ball and Russell's cut flew to the third man boundary. Two balls later, Rabada went for the very delivery that had floored Russell last week, the yorker, but he missed his length and the ball soared over deep square leg. In the space of three balls, the pressure had shifted to Rabada's corner.
Rabada returned for his final over - the innings' 18th - and he went short first ball. At over 145kph, it was a ball capable of troubling even a set batsman, but not Russell. He slid onto his back foot, and swung mercilessly, hooking Rabada for six. The man at the fine-leg boundary looked upwards in a bid to set up for the catch, only to see it soar over his head and into the stands. That made it 17 off five deliveries for Russell off Rabada, and more than half the over was still left.
The next ball was a yorker, and Russell whipped it through backward square leg for a couple. The carnage had paused for one ball, but Russell had kept the strike. Rabada followed up with another short ball, and this time Russell saw it even earlier, the ball flying for six well in front of square. Singles off the next two balls left one last ball for Rabada to bowl to Russell.
What would Rabada do? A yorker to finish the spell? A searing short ball at Russell's head? It looked like Rabada went for the former option, but lost control at release, and the ball flew straight towards Russell's gut. In dewy conditions, the ball had slipped out of Rabada's hand. An inside-edge onto the body left Russell on the floor, and he was in visible pain as Rabada collected his cap from the umpire.
The numbers, however, showed who had won Round Two. Russell had smacked Rabada for 26 off just nine balls, at a strike-rate of 289. Off the other bowlers, Russell managed only 19 off 12, and he lost his wicket to Chris Morris on 45.
What went wrong for Rabada? It could be that he was double-bluffing Russell into thinking the yorker was coming, especially with long-on and long-off on the boundary. But instead he went short with not enough protection square on the leg side. Russell, too, was perhaps expecting Rabada to not go full as often this time around, and stayed glued to his crease, prepared to rock right back as soon as the ball left Rabada's hand.
There might still be Round Three to look forward to if both teams make the playoffs, or maybe even the final. Rabada, who Ricky Ponting calls "a calm head who becomes aggressive only when he has the ball in his hand", would be looking to turn the battle in his favour if they meet another time. Whichever way it goes, no one will mind another installment of the world's most destructive hitter coming up against the world's best fast bowler.

Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo