As Manish Pandey hoisted Hardik Pandya into the stands to force a Super Over, R Ashwin and Dinesh Karthik, good friends and Tamil Nadu team-mates, could’ve been forgiven for looking at the fixtures and the points table frantically. A win for Sunrisers Hyderabad would’ve meant Friday’s game in Mohali would have been a knockout. Mumbai Indians’ win now leaves both sides with a chance even if they lose on Friday, but that will mean the stars have to align, a route they’d not want to take after having endured a roller coaster of a season.
Kings XI Punjab’s season thus far bears an eerie resemblance to their 2018 campaign – well-placed halfway through, before a loss from a winning position causing an implosion. Now, the push has come to shove and there is no way out. It’s the survival of the fittest.
Change has been the only constant for Kings XI; they have changed their playing XI in each of the 12 matches. The only solace they can fall back on is their proud home record: four wins in five games so far. The big square boundaries have given the two Ashwins plenty to bowl with even if the surfaces have not often aided much turn. However, they will know all too well that no boundary is big enough for Andre Russell, most certainly not if he continues to bat at No. 3 and stays till the death overs.
Kolkata Knight Riders snapped a six-match losing streak and the win at Eden Gardens three nights ago may have come as a balm amid hints of friction in the camp. Nothing can cover up the cracks like a win, and the journey to Mohali and the two off days they have could not have come at a better time.
Finally, they’ve managed to address issues that seemed apparent to everyone but themselves: the batting line-up conundrum. Shubman Gill opened and justified the change with a sparkling 76. His strike rate of 158 is the third-best for any opener who has scored 100 runs this season. Meanwhile, Russell showed how he can adapt to situations by batting his way in before the end-overs onslaught.
Kings XI’s focus will be on the team combination. Do they trust Mujeeb Ur Rahman again and bring him in against a power-packed side, knowing his confidence may be down after conceding 66 in his four overs against Sunrisers or play an extra seamer in Ankit Rajpoot? Do they look to drop the under-firing David Miller and strengthen their bowling stocks further? One way of doing that could be including Karun Nair and playing Sam Curran to balance out the overseas personnel. It’s anybody’s guess how they’ll go.
In the news
Moises Henriques could’ve offered them the batting muscle along with a few overs, but he hasn’t yet recovered fully from the ankle injury. Kings XI also won’t have the services of Varun Chakravarthy, who has left the squad following a shoulder injury. They’ve tried out all other players in the squad barring Darshan Nalkande and Agnivesh Ayachi. Knight Riders have an entire squad to choose from.
Russell walloped five sixes and three fours in a 17-ball 48 to give Knight Riders 218 for 4. Kings XI Punjab challenged the chase at different stages but didn’t have enough firepower to cross the line. David Miller’s 59 not out merely reduced the margin of defeat.
Kings XI Punjab: 1 KL Rahul, 2 Chris Gayle, 3 Mayank Agarwal, 4 Nicholas Pooran (wk), 5 David Miller, 6 Mandeep Singh, 7 R Ashwin (capt), 8 M Ashwin, 9 Ankit Rajpoot, 10 Arshdeep Singh, 11 Mohammed Shami
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Chris Lynn, 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Andre Russell, 4 Robin Uthappa, 5 Dinesh Karthik (capt, wk), 6 Nitish Rana, 7 Sunil Narine, 8 Piyush Chawla, 9 Harry Gurney, 10 Sandeep Warrier, 11 Prasidh Krishna
Russell can seamlessly switch to six-hitting at the death – he has the second-best strike rate (249) and has scored the most runs (351) in overs 16 to 20. How do Kings XI prevent him from getting there? Perhaps their captain Ashwin, who likes to bowl with the new ball, may want to hold himself back a bit as Russell’s strike rate against the carrom ball is a modest 97.1 across 35 balls.
Kings XI have to not just win but try and improve their net run-rate too. Gayle will be aware of this. So how do they keep him quiet? Maybe Knight Riders could unleash his West Indies mate Sunil Narine upfront? Gayle’s strike rate against offspin this season is a low 73.1 across 26 deliveries, with a dot-ball percentage of 50.
Now that Gill has shown promise at the top of the order, Knight Riders may want to resist the temptation to open with Narine. Two of Gill’s three half-centuries this season have come while opening. He also strikes better (158) here than anywhere else in the order, and manages a boundary every 4.7 deliveries; the corresponding numbers at No. 3 and No. 5 stand at 15 and 13.5 respectively.
Stats that matter
Russell is 58 away from 5000 T20 runs. If he gets there, he would have done so in exactly 300 T20s.
Knight Riders’ pace bowlers have taken the fewest number of wickets in the competition (22). They are also the second-most expensive pace-bowling unit (economy of 9.5), behind only to Kings XI (9.6).
Kings XI’s win percentage is a lowly 16.7 when Gayle scores less than 30.