Mid-way through the first innings, it felt like the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) pacers were bowling on a pitch that was 28 yards long rather 22. Majority of the deliveries seemed to be landing half-way down the strip and sitting up preciously for the Mumbai Indians' (MI) top order to feast on. Rohit Sharma helped himself to 80 from 54 balls as Mumbai posted a formidable total of 195/5, a target that was never going to be achieved by the series of blunders Kolkata had committed throughout the match.
Winning the toss and bowling might have been the right option, but the first mistake of the innings came from a short and wide offering by Sandeep Warrier in the opening over. Rohit sent the ball over cover-point for a six.
Leading into the match, one of the tactics KKR coaching staff is certain to have discussed is not to bowl half trackers to Rohit. The inexperienced Warrier could be excused, but KKR's multi-millionaire Pat Cummins continued to pepper Rohit with the short-ball plan that went disastrously wrong. Cummins ended the night conceding 49 runs from just three overs. Ten balls from Cummins had been pulled to or over the boundary.
Since that last ball of first over that Rohit smashed for six, the KKR bowlers bowled nine half-trackers that yielded 23 runs. Out of the 22 boundaries Mumbai hit, 13 had come off short balls. At the end of Rohit's innings, a graphic on broadcaster Star Sports showed the opener had a strike rate of 258 against balls that landed on the bowler’s side of the pitch.
During the innings, KKR coach Brendon McCullum admitted that his bowlers had erred in length, but it was KKR’s batting approach in pursuit of 196 that was even more bewildering.
Firstly, the sight of Dinesh Karthik walking in at No 3 seemed bizarre given he had not batted in that position throughout the 2019 season. Add to that, he had proclaimed to be a finisher. “I relish my role as a finisher,” he had told The Hindu in October last year. In the four chases last season, the earliest Karthik had strode to crease was in the 12th over.
While there may have been a change of tactics in 2020, the lethargic approach during the powerplay also seemed debatable. In the past, KKR have always relied on maximising the first six overs by employing a couple of power-hitters like Chris Lynn or Robin Uthappa. On Wednesday night, they had Narine, but perhaps instead of promoting Karthik, they should have opted for a flamboyant player like Nikhil Naik or even a Nitish Rana.
The lack of intent was evident from the outset as KKR managed only 33 runs from the batting powerplay. They had lost two wickets and importantly Jasprit Bumrah had only bowled a solitary over. Which brings up the next big question – why was Eoin Morgan, a player who bats at No 4 for England in T20 cricket sent behind Rana?
Statistics reveal Morgan has a strike-rate of 150 in T20s in 2019, so he would be have been the ideal choice to shift gears while Karthik played the anchor role. Importantly, Morgan has the experience and won plenty of matches for England from a similar scenario.
While chasing big totals, acceleration has to be perfectly timed. Teams need to change gears at the right period, but KKR had failed at it miserably. At the end of the ninth over, KKR were 64/2, 10 runs had been scored off the Krunal Pandya over. The engine had been revved up, but for the next 18 balls, they only scored 14 runs. Two of the overs were bowled by Pollard. Leaving the big-hitting till the end is fine, but when the opposition have a death over specialist like Bumrah, it puts enormous strain on a batsman like Russell.
By the time Russell faced his first ball, KKR required 116 off 47 balls. Add to that Russell had a bleak record against Mumbai and has generally struggled against bowlers that nudge over the 140 kmph mark. Mumbai had Bumrah and Pattinson up there sleeve to tackle the Russell assault and bombard him with the short balls. The long square boundaries meant top edges were not going to fly for six like they do at the Eden Gardens or the Wankhede Stadium.
T20 is a game of match-ups and Mumbai had outsmarted Kolkata in the death overs. Asked about the change in the top of the order in the post-match interview, Karthik stated “I haven't had the conversation about that (regarding tweaking the top order) with Baz (Brendon MuCullum), will let you know by the next game.”
It was only their first game, but if KKR do not come up with the right strategy moving forward they could be left behind very quickly.
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