Cricket news - KKR need to shrug off PowerPlay lethargy as top-four race intensifies

KKr won the reverse fixture.

KKr won the reverse fixture.

Exactly 10 days ago, Kolkata Knight Riders were distancing themselves from the chasing pack. While the trifecta of Delhi Capitals, Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore surged ahead with a run of wins, Kolkata managed to create a four-point gap between themselves at fourth, and the second half of the table after each had played nine games. At that stage, even that small cushion seemed good enough, considering how the bottom-half sides kept floundering along the way.

But then, the IPL pendulum swung hard.

KKR have now gone from five wins in nine games to just six in 12, dropping down to fifth spot, joining the mid-table jostlers. Consistent run of form has eluded KKR all through, as they've not been able to win more than two matches on the trot. Worse still is the fact that when they've been bad, they've been really bad - directly affecting their poor Net Run Rate (-0.479) which is currently the third-worst in the league.

At the heart of KKR's problems is the extreme lethargy in the PowerPlay. KKR are the only side this season who haven't had a fifty-plus opening stand, and one of only two teams to lose at least one wicket in the first six overs in every game so far. Shubman Gill's show of urgency and intent in the game against KXIP is a welcome change for Morgan's side, but they'd be better served with better support from Nitish Rana and Rahul Tripathi - who have both blown hot and cold this season.

For a side steeped in excellence and consistency like CSK, Thursday's game against KKR is unchartered territory. It will be their first outing since being officially knocked out of the playoffs reckoning - an experience they've never had before. What this new experience brings however, is the power to influence how the fight for the top-four goes down. CSK might already be looking at the future, but still hold quite the sway in the present.

What do KKR need to ensure qualification?

- Winning both their remaining games will put them on 16 points - a tally that neither RR or SRH can match. If they get to 16, NRR will be the deciding factor.

- KKR can still qualify by winning just one of the two matches, but it will involve a bunch of other results going their way

When: Chennai Super Kings vs Kolkata Knight Riders, October 29, 7:30 PM IST

Where: Dubai International Cricket Stadium

What to expect: The pitches are clearly getting drier by the day, and dew is making its presence felt in the second innings. Unless you can score 200-plus like SRH did against DC or suffer an inexplicable collapse in a paltry chase (again) like SRH against KXIP, the formula of win-toss-bowl-first has made its way back. CSK themselves pulled it off against RCB in what was perhaps their best performance of the season.

Team News

Chennai Super Kings

If CSK continue to give chances to their squad players with an eye on IPL 2021, then Kerala pacer KM Asif for Monu Kumar could be a like-for-like replacement. Tamil Nadu's R Sai Kishore, the tall off-spinner who turned heads with his impressive performances in the TNPL and Syed Mushtaq Ali, is the only other member of the CSK squad yet to get a game. He could be in for Ravindra Jadeja.

Probable XI: Ruturaj Gaikwad, Faf du Plessis, Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni (C, wk), Sam Curran, N Jagadeesan, Ravindra Jadeja/R Sai Kishore, Mitchell Santner, Deepak Chahar, Monu Kumar/KM Asif, Imran Tahir

Kolkata Knight Riders

KKR have a big top-order problem in a misfiring Dinesh Karthik. Replacing him would mean having to bring in another wicketkeeper - which complicates the process because two of KKR's three options behind the stumps are overseas picks (Nikhil Naik, Tom Banton and Tim Seifert). The easier alternative would be to play Karthik a spot or two down the order, with Eoin Morgan pushing up to #4.

If the KKR top-three can provide a strong start, even Sunil Narine could be a viable option at two-drop if the opportunity presents itself in the middle-overs where CSK will operate with their spinners.

Andre Russell has missed KKR's last three fixtures since suffering an injury in the game against Sunrisers Hyderabad on October 18. If he is now fully fit after a 10-day break, he should replace Pat Cummins in the XI.

Probable XI: Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana, Rahul Tripathi, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Eoin Morgan (C), Sunil Narine, Pat Cummins/Andre Russell, Lockie Ferguson, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Prasidh Krishna, Varun Chakravarthy

Did You Know?

- KKR have lost the most wickets (84) and have the lowest run rate among all the sides (7.80). CSK is the only other team to score at less than eight runs per over this season (7.89).

- MS Dhoni is yet to hit a boundary off Sunil Narine in the IPL

- Faf du Plessis is CSK's top-scorer this season so far with 401 runs. But it has been a season of two contrasting halves for the South African - 282 of those 401 runs came in the first five innings, while he has managed just 119 in the seven innings since.

- First time since 2008, CSK spinners have picked less than 25 wickets in a season. Their tally of 15 this year is the worst among the eight teams.

What they said:

"That's one of the challenges this year, going from ground to ground. Hopefully we adjust to the conditions in Dubai. That's the nature of the tournament, there are not many bad sides. Our fate is in our own hands in the last two games. " - KKR captain Eoin Morgan said after his team's defeat to KXIP.

"This was one of the perfect games. Everything went to plan. The execution was there and we were able to pick wickets regularly to restrict them to a total that's slightly below par on a wicket like this. A lot depends on how the players are performing and how the wicket is. This was definitely on the slower side and the spinners have done a very good job." - CSK captain MS Dhoni said after the win over RCB.