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Match Analysis

Talking Points - Did Kolkata Knight Riders pick the right opening pair?

Sandeep Lamichhane made a belated first appearance of the season, and made an immediate impact, but did KKR play into his hands?

Lamichhane makes his mark, finally
Sandeep Lamichhane has been an automatic pick in franchise leagues around the world, and when the IPL season began, you might have imagined he would be just that at Delhi Capitals as well. He had sparkled for Delhi in his limited opportunities last season, picking up five wickets in three games while conceding less than seven an over, and since then had starred in the CPL, the BBL, the BPL and the PSL.
But Delhi didn't pick Lamichhane in their first two games of IPL 2019, using Rahul Tewatia as their only legspin option in their season-opener at the Wankhede Stadium and picking Tewatia and Amit Mishra on a more spin-friendly Feroz Shah Kotla pitch against Chennai Super Kings. The primary reason for Delhi to go with Tewatia ahead of Lamichhane was their lack of batting depth. They picked six bowlers in their first two matches, and had Keemo Paul batting at No. 6. In such a scenario, Tewatia's lower-order hitting was a useful option to have. If that was the thinking, Lamichhane could only have played ahead of Mishra against Super Kings, given Delhi were only playing three overseas players.
On Saturday, Lamichhane finally made his first appearance of the season, with Chris Morris finally available as a more accomplished batting option than Paul, and with one of the bowling allrounders, Axar Patel, giving way for a specialist batsman in Hanuma Vihari.
Lamichhane made an immediate impact against Knight Riders, bowling two overs in the Powerplay for the cost of only seven runs, and picking up a wicket.
Did Knight Riders choose the right openers?
To an extent, the opposition's selection of openers made life a little easier for Lamichhane. Sunil Narine, who has a strike rate of 227.3 against spin in the IPL since 2015, was injured and unavailable. Chris Lynn came into this game with a strike rate of 107.6 against spin in the same period, as against 165.8 against pace.
The combination of Narine and Lynn works so well because they cover for each other's weaknesses. KKR needed to open with someone who could take on the spinners if they were to take the new ball, and maybe they saw that in Nikhil Naik, a wicketkeeper-batsman who had only played three IPL games before this one, for two other franchises.
As it happened, Naik struggled against Lamichhane, one scoring one run off eight balls from the legspinner before falling to a wrong'un that he failed to pick.
Perhaps Robin Uthappa, who has opened numerous times for KKR in the past, may have been a better option to open alongside Lynn. Uthappa seemed to pick Lamichhane comfortably right from the time he walked in, steering a legbreak through cover point for a four first ball and then whipping a wrong'un to long-on for a single.
Consolidate, what's that?
Through a combination of good bowling, uncertain batting, poor running, and plain bad luck, Knight Riders stumbled through the first half of their innings, and were 61 for 5 when Shubman Gill was run out at the start of the 10th over.
Andre Russell walked in to join Dinesh Karthik, and the last recognised pair was at the crease. Other teams may have looked for stability at this stage, and looked to bat through a few quiet, wicket-free overs. Not so Knight Riders. Much like this game last season, where they put on 76 off 46 balls after coming together at 89 for 5, Karthik and Russell kept going after the bowling, and added 95 off 52 balls. Karthik made 50 off 36, and Russell, who came into this game with game-changing knocks of 49* off 19 and 48 off 17 behind him, smoked six sixes in a blistering 28-ball 62.
Knight Riders ignore the match-ups
Shikhar Dhawan came into this game with an extremely good head-to-head record against Piyush Chawla in T20s: 67 runs off 44 balls, and he had never been out to the legspinner in nine meetings. Dhawan was batting on 6 off 5 when Knight Riders introduced Chawla in the third over of Delhi's chase. Dhawan immediately went after him, jumping out to the first ball he faced off him and driving him for four, before slog-sweeping his next ball for six. His eagerness to stay on top of Chawla, however, got the better of him and he was out next ball, dancing out of his crease once again and offering a catch to mid-off after getting too close to the pitch of the ball.
That, though, was the only over of spin that Knight Riders bowled in the Powerplay. This was despite the presence of Prithvi Shaw at the crease. Shaw came into this game with a T20 average of 33.8 and a strike rate of 158.6 against pace as opposed to 14.6 and 130.4 against spin. Shaw faced just one ball in that Chawla over, and by the time he next faced spin - Chawla again in the seventh over - he was already batting on 24 off 17.
Shaw and Iyer continue the day's trend
In the first match of the day in Mohali, Kings XI Punjab employed a keep-wickets-in-hand strategy while chasing down 177 against Mumbai Indians. KL Rahul played the anchor role there, hitting just one boundary in his first 37 balls, and scoring at less than a run a ball in that period while Chris Gayle and Mayank Agarwal went after the bowling at the other end. Rahul would eventually pick up the pace and finish on an unbeaten 71 off 57.
Delhi followed a roughly similar template here. Shreyas Iyer took his time initially, after coming in at No. 3, and was on 8 off 16 at one stage. Prithvi Shaw played his shots when the bowlers erred in length or line, but didn't take undue risks early on, and scored 28 off his first 21 balls. The two of them added 26 off the first 29 balls of their partnership, and at that stage, halfway through the eighth over of Delhi's innings, their required rate had climbed above 10 an over.
Then the tempo changed completely, and boundaries rained all around the ground. The next 27 balls of the Shaw-Iyer partnership brought Delhi 63 runs, and by the time they were done they needed a manageable 70 off 48, with eight wickets in hand.
Knight Riders' inadvertent masterstroke
With Narine absent, Kuldeep Yadav became Knight Riders' No. 1 spinner. He came on in the eighth over, and Shaw and Iyer immediately went after the left-arm wristspinner, clattering him for 33 in his first two overs. Having successfully targeted him, they seemed to have exposed Knight Riders' bowling resources minus the controlling influence of Narine - he has conceded 6.8 per over in the middle overs of IPL matches since 2015, as opposed to Chawla and Kuldeep who have both gone at more than eight an over. With Karthik not trusting Kuldeep with another over, he even turned to Nitish Rana's part-time offbreaks for one over.
By the time Kuldeep returned to the attack, the match was pretty much done, or so it seemed. Delhi needed 18 off 18 balls, and Shaw was still at the crease, on 96.
But the value of a bowler capable of sharp turn became apparent as Rishabh Pant failed to connect with two successive cross-bat swipes, and then picked out deep midwicket with another slog next ball. Only three came off that over, and suddenly there was some pressure on Delhi. Shaw fell in the next over, for 99, miscuing a well-directed bouncer from Lockie Ferguson, and two new batsmen were at the crease.
The final over began with Delhi needing six, and Kuldeep was back, varying his pace and trajectory and creating challenging angles as well - he went round the wicket to the left-handed Colin Ingram and bowled from wide of the crease. Delhi simply weren't able to get him away for a big hit, and Ingram, sweeping the last ball through backward square leg, managed to tie the scores but couldn't make it back to the other end in time to complete the win.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo