IPL 2021: Eoin Morgan’s match-ups masterclass, gems that will be forgotten and other talking points from SRH vs KKR

Kolkata Knight Riders made a winning start to an IPL season for the eighth time in the last 10 editions, kicking off their 2021 campaign with a 10-run victory over Sunrisers Hyderabad at Chennai.

Despite the presence of several heavyweights, it was the domestic duo of Nitish Rana and Rahul Tripathi who led KKR to 187/5, sharing a 93-run second-wicket partnership in just 8.2 overs. In response, SRH lost captain David Warner early, and a disciplined all-round bowling effort from KKR kept them down to 177/5.

The talking points from Sunday’s SRH-KKR clash:

IPL, meet the modern match-up masters

Making his KKR debut, Harbhajan Singh was selected for one clear purpose: getting the better of David Warner, who he had dismissed four times in 94 balls in the IPL. He was handed the ball in the first over, and the 40-year-old did his part, deceiving the SRH skipper – only to see Pat Cummins shell a comfortable take at point.

In the second over, Warner fell to Prasidh Krishna… and with the rest of the SRH lineup right-hand heavy, we didn’t see Harbhajan bowl again in the game.

It wasn’t the only match-up masterclass we saw from Eoin Morgan’s KKR. Jonny Bairstow had lost his wicket four times and scored at only 6.74 per over facing 140 kmph+ deliveries during IPL 2020, and so Cummins – despite a possible shortage of death options – was given a third over through the middle of the SRH chase, and he delivered the breakthrough.

Morgan is, by no means, the only captain around the world to take into match-ups in limited overs cricket, but there’s probably no bigger ambassador for its importance in the men’s game. It formed a vital part of the thinking that went behind England’s maiden Men’s ODI World Cup crown, and with Nathan Leamon – analyst with the English team – joining Morgan at KKR this season, expect to see a lot more of this through this summer.

With the coach of the 2019 World Cup-winning setup in the opposite camp, SRH weren’t short on match-up mastery themselves.

The decision to hold back one Rashid Khan over for Andre Russell was no surprise, with the Afghan sensation having had the West Indian’s number thrice in 27 balls in previous T20 meetings, and it paid off immediately.

But even more impressive was throwing the ball to Mohammad Nabi for the 18th over – a move few would risk at the death – with two left-handers at the crease. It was a move rooted in historical evidence: eight of Nabi’s 11 wickets in the IPL were left-handed batsmen, and he conceded 5.38 per over against them (compared to 7.86 against right-handers). Fortune favoured the brave (and the data-minded), and the ‘President’ claimed the wickets of Nitish Rana and Eoin Morgan of successive deliveries.

Tripathi & Karthik’s underrated gems

Either side of those dramatic overs by the Afghan spinners, KKR’s innings was fuelled by two knocks that will lie largely forgotten in the history books – but should be cherished as much, if not more, than Rana’s 80 for their significance to the result.

It’s fitting that these two underrated gems came from the blades of Rahul Tripathi and Dinesh Karthik, two men whose T20 abilities have been criminally underrated, at the IPL and the international level, respectively.

Tripathi’s entry at the end of seven overs might not have pleased some among the KKR faithful, what with the urge to see the Morgan-Russell-Karthik trifecta getting maximum time to capitalise. But he was the enforcer in the middle overs association with Rana, one that eventually proved pivotal to the result.

There were only six dots as Tripathi laced his way to 53 off 29 balls, and the standout feature was his ease at dispatching the Afghan spin twins: Tripathi took 26 off the 15 balls he faced from Rashid and Nabi; the rest of the KKR batsmen scored 25 off 33 balls, for the loss of four wickets.

The stranglehold applied by Rashid and Nabi in the 17th and 18th overs, respectively, could well have been the difference in restricting KKR to a sub-180 total – but that’s when the original cameo king came into the picture. Back donning his familiar finishing hat, Karthik took down Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the final over of the innings; in the last four overs, while the other KKR batsmen scored eight runs from 15 deliveries, Karthik had swatted an unbeaten 22 off just nine balls.

Mind over matter: Rana’s triumph

While Tripathi and Karthik’s specials, arguably, had the bigger impact on the game, let’s not take away from the physical victory that was Rana’s effort.

A late joinee to KKR’s pre-season preparations after testing positive for COVID-19 in late March, the 27-year-old showed little of the drain associated with the virus as he continued from where he had left off at the end of IPL 2020.

Rana’s last six IPL innings, most recent last, read 0, 81, 0, 87, 0, 80.

He’ll be hoping to arrest this trend when KKR meet Mumbai Indians on Tuesday, and his honesty in picking the bowlers to attack against SRH is a sign that he’s in good shape to do the same. Rana played out the three most seasoned SRH campaigners, scoring 30 runs off the 33 balls he faced from Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi – but tonked Sandeep Sharma, T Natarajan and Vijay Shankar for 50 runs from just 23 balls.

Two match-losing efforts, one tactical gaffe

The SRH chase, at first glance, was carried by a 92-run stand between Manish Pandey and Jonny Bairstow after they had slid to 10/2 at the start of the third over. But how much, really, can you praise a partnership that goes at less than 8.50 per over, while lasting more than half an innings which began with an asking rate of 9.40 per over?

Bairstow, while looking fluent and catching the eye with his shot-making, was curbed by Cummins and Shakib al Hasan, scoring only 18 off the 20 balls he faced from the two. In the final reading, 55 off 40 balls was well behind the pace required to keep SRH at par.

As for Pandey, the anchor troubles are nothing new. His scoring rate through IPL 2020 was 7.66 per over, and a bothersome 6.20 through the middle overs. While he fared better on both counts on Sunday, batting 18.3 overs while going at 8.32 per over, when the required rate was 9.40, did no favours to his team’s chances. Take away that quite meaningless six of the last ball, with the game already decided, and Pandey had only scored eight runs off eight balls at the death – a phase that began with SRH needing 57 runs off 24 balls.

These two below-par half-centuries put immense pressure on SRH’s pursuit, and they didn’t help themselves by keeping Abdul Samad back at number seven either.

He may be shy on experience, but Samad’s case to make an impact appeared stronger than Vijay Shankar’s, who was sent at six: in the IPL, Samad strikes at more than 170 from the first 10 balls of his innings, while Shankar goes at barely more than a run-a-ball. With the asking rate in excess of 14, Samad ought to have been sent before Shankar – and he proved that on the day, too, smashing two sixes off the first three balls he faced, from Cummins no less.

Also chew on this: Samad now has eight sixes from 73 balls in the IPL. These eight sixes have come from the 27 balls he’s faced from the following four bowlers – Cummins, Jasprit Bumrah, Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada.

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