Eoin Morgan stated at the toss it’s not a night for holding back. Kolkata not only needed to win, but had to register a thumping victory to improve their chances of qualifying for the playoffs. It was an ideal match for the players to play with freedom and in modern terms ‘express themselves’. It is a similar attitude to the one that Morgan had instilled in the England setup for the past few years. It should not come as a surprise then that Morgan was the standout smashing an unbeaten 65 from 38 balls to propel Kolkata to an imposing 191 run total.
Kolkata may still qualify for the playoffs, but if they don’t, they will regret not playing the Morgan’s brand of cricket through the tournament. There is no doubt the change of leadership has had an impact. At times the cricket can look reckless, but having the belief to execute the big shots repeatedly has been the backbone of England’s success in the white ball format.
On Sunday night, it finally seemed like that England-Morgan attacking attitude had rubbed off on the Knight Riders. Shubman Gill batted with vigour from the outset. He seemed like he was finally playing the ball on merit rather than thinking about his responsibility. Earlier in the tournament, there seemed to be too much emphasis on him to drop anchor and bat through to the 15th over. On Sunday, one could sense that expectation had been lifted. The result was a 24-ball 36 that ensured Kolkata were off to a flying start.
Rahul Tripathi’s most impactful IPL innings have always been at the top of the order. Even in his breakout season in 2017, he only managed to cross 50 on two occasions, but it was his 35-off-20 that provided the boost to then Rising Pune Supergiants. On Sunday, it was a vintage Tripathi innings: he ensured the run-rate didn’t plateau in the power-play and was dismissed trying to up the tempo at the right time. In fairness, he had done his job perfectly.
The promotion of Sunil Narine was tactical and while it didn’t come off, it was once again an indication of Morgan’s theory of persisting to attack through the middle overs. Kolkata have always had the depth in the batting, so it has been slightly surprising that they haven’t stuck to fire on all cylinders attitude throughout the tournament.
Importantly, the shift in attitude against Royals made Morgan comfortable as a captain and a batsman. The left-hander paced his innings perfectly by targeting the right deliveries and specific bowlers. The way he finished the innings resembled his knocks for England in the past few years. It was like he had finally managed to create that England’s white ball culture into the Kolkata setup. It is a great shame for Kolkata that it has taken so long to instil such style. Maybe it was the situation of trying to win by a big margin that had contributed to such a risky attitude.
In the match against Sunrisers in Abu Dhabi, Brendon McCullum had stated he had been studying the top rank teams closing and trying to imbed a few things into the Kolkata setup. It was a sign that McCullum was still unsure on how to get the best out of his unit. Instead of playing to his squad’s strength he was searching for answers outside. Coincidently, it resulted in Kolkata having a late season form slump. But on Sunday, the Kolkata coaching staff altered their strategy and all Morgan wanted from his team as not to hold back.
Andre Russell cameo was exactly what Kolkata had been craving for throughout the tournament. From the outside it seems like far too many strategies had been implied, which made it complicated for the team to execute. Last night, the core plan was to bat freely and play the ball on merit rather than overthinking the match scenario. It was like the Knight Riders had broken free for the first time in the tournament.
The positive intent with the bat also seemed to rub off on the bowling. Pat Cummins searched for wickets, from the outset. The other bowlers delivered without fear of losing. In the end, the result was a commanding 60 run win.
In the post match interview Morgan stated, “We were out there to be play a free-flowing style of cricket. That was the only way we were going to win. Whatever happens from here is up to the Gods.” The gods may give Kolkata another chance in IPL 2020 and if they do, Morgan needs to ensure they play a similar brand of attacking cricket.
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