Amongst all the eight Indian Premier League (IPL) teams, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) are renowned for its versatile bowling attack along with the Sunrisers Hyderabad. Hence, one can expect chasing down totals in the rage of 190 to 200 against these two bowling line-ups, to be a far more daunting task than what Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) showed us on a wet Saturday evening at the Eden Gardens.
It was a pure carnage on the part of KL Rahul and Chris Gayle which left the KKR bowlers in a complete disarray. Chasing 192 to win, KXIP scored 73 for 0 in the powerplay and were 96 for 0 in 8.2 overs, when rain arrived. By that time Punjab had pocketed the game already and the post-break period was just a formality.
It was a rare occasion for KKR, when all their bowling plans went horribly wrong. Since the very first ball of the innings by Shivam Mavi, which hit the inside edge of Rahul’s bat and went to the fine leg fence, Karthik lost his grip in the proceedings. From there it was a run-feast for the two in-form KXIP openers.
Well, while analysing these initial few overs of the Punjab innings, the first thing which surprises me, is the delay in introducing spin, especially against Gayle, who is known to be a susceptible batsman against slow bowling early in his innings.
So far in this season, Karthik has shown a tendency of using spinners inside the powerplay and the ploy has often worked on multiple occasions. In the previous matches, leg-spinner Piyush Chawla was his preferred bowler for this role. In fact, in their previous home game against Delhi, when KKR defended a similar sort of score, Chawla bowled the first over and got rid of the in-form Jason Roy. That early breakthrough opened the game for the ‘Men in Purple’.
However, on Saturday, against Gayle and Rahul, upfront, Karthik fed them with four overs of pace bowling — two each from Mavi and Andre Russell — in which the pair scored 57 runs. For me, that was the turning point of the match.
It is understandable that Karthik was not comfortable bowling a leg-spinner against Gayle when the field was in. Nevertheless, he had the option of going to the mystery spin of Sunil Narine or off-breaks of Nitish Rana. But the KKR skipper preferred a conventional approach, which was very unlike him. His pacers bowled to the strengths of the duo and were punished subsequently.
Although I have to say, Mavi bowled a few peaches of deliveries to Gayle, which almost cut the West Indian into two pieces. At one point, Karthik kept two slips and a gully for his young pacer. But Gayle survived the difficult period and flourished. In fact, both Rahul and Gayle enjoyed the extra pace on the ball. The first over of spin was introduced after a wait of 24 balls, and by that time, KXIP batsmen had the momentum in their favour, thanks to the eight boundaries and three sixes, which they hit during the first four overs.
However, there was no certainty, that even spin would have worked against the high-flying KXIP openers. In fact, this was exactly what Karthik said in the post-match presser when he asked to explain his ploy of starting with seamers from both ends.
“There is not a pattern to get him [Gayle] out that teams have found out yet. He's batting really well you got to accept that,” he said.
Contrary to the KKR skipper, I believe, an early introduction of spinners would have definitely increased the chances of getting Gayle out early.
The left-hander stayed unbeaten on 62 off 38 balls — his third fifty-plus score in three games this season when KXIP chased down the revised target of 125 (in 13 overs) with 11 balls to spare to take the top spot at the point’s table. Whereas, ‘Man of Match’ Rahul, the only wicket to fall in the innings, got 60 off just 27.
We are now entering the middle phase of IPL 2018, where all the teams have started to pick up pace. Following this demoralising defeat against Punjab, KKR fortunately have a six-day break before their next game against Delhi on 27 April, which will be an away fixture. So, there is time for the think tank to revisit their bowling plans, especially during the powerplay overs.