Their batting looked short of power and inspiration through their first four matches of the season, but something clicked into place for the Chennai Super Kings against Kings XI Punjab on Sunday. Yes, nothing masks problems like a 181-run opening stand, but that wasn’t the only encouragement the Super Kings took out of that game. With Ambati Rayudu and Dwayne Bravo back from injury, their line-up just looks a whole lot healthier, and with three No. 8s at Nos. 9, 10, and 11 – in Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar and Piyush Chawla – they have the sort of depth few other sides in the IPL can match.
This isn’t to say the Super Kings have turned into a world-beating outfit overnight, or even that they can consistently beat the IPL’s heavyweights. Kings XI didn’t aim high enough with the bat, and their bowling attack is one of the weakest in the tournament. The Kolkata Knight Riders are likely to present the Super Kings a far stiffer challenge.
The Knight Riders haven’t quite found their groove yet this season, with Sunil Narine and Dinesh Karthik looking off-colour and with Andre Russell and Pat Cummins not quite hitting peak form just yet. The law of averages, however, suggests at least one of them will come roaring back into form in the very near future, and the Super Kings will hope they aren’t at the receiving end when that happens.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Shane Watson, 2 Faf du Plessis, 3 Ambati Rayudu, 4 Kedar Jadhav, 5 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 Dwayne Bravo, 8 Sam Curran, 9 Shardul Thakur, 10 Deepak Chahar, 11 Piyush Chawla
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Sunil Narine, 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Nitish Rana, 4 Dinesh Karthik (capt & wk), 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Andre Russell, 7 Rahul Tripathi, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Kamlesh Nagarkoti, 10 Shivam Mavi, 11 Varun Chakravarthy
The one thing that makes all three of the Knight Riders’ big overseas hitters – Narine at the top of the order, and Russell and Eoin Morgan lower down – uncomfortable, to varying extents, is fast, short-pitched bowling. Unlike the Mumbai Indians or the Delhi Capitals, however, the Super Kings don’t have anyone in their first-choice attack who can bowl in that manner. Just for this reason, they might think of bringing back either Lungi Ngidi or Josh Hazlewood, in place of Dwayne Bravo. It wouldn’t be an easy change to make, given that Bravo, apart from his death-bowling skills, adds real heft to their lower order, and just his presence helps free up the batsmen playing above him. But if there’s one opposition that calls out for including at least one out-and-out fast bowler in your attack, it’s the Knight Riders.
This becomes even more imperative when you consider how destructive Russell has been against the Super Kings in recent seasons. Since 2018, he’s scored 98 runs in the slog overs (16-20) against the Super Kings without being dismissed. And why leave out Bravo? Maybe because Russell has hit him for 78 runs in 30 balls across four innings in the IPL, without being dismissed.
Why bowl fast and short to Russell? Well, since the 2018 season, fast bowlers have dismissed him significantly more times while bowling short (9) than any other length, according to ESPNcricinfo’s data, with the traditional good length (4) a distant second. His control percentage against short balls (53.25) is his lowest against any length, and his strike rate against short balls (170.13) is the second-lowest behind yorkers (110.53). Yorkers come with very little margin for error, though, with Russell striking at 228.95 against full-tosses and 337.50 against full balls. Short balls have a greater margin for error, with Russell striking at 175.32 against short-of-good-length balls.
The key wicket for the Knight Riders, meanwhile, could be Shane Watson. The Australian opener has made ten 40-plus scores for the Super Kings, and nine of them have come in wins. How can the Knight Riders rein Watson in? Narine hasn’t been the force he used to be with the ball, but he has excellent numbers against Watson: 28 balls over six innings, conceding just 29 runs and dismissing him four times. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to hand Narine the new ball.
Stats that matter
In Sam Curran, the Super Kings have a genuine lower-order asset they could look to promote more often. Of all batsmen who’ve faced at least 60 balls in the IPL since the 2019 season, Curran’s strike rate of 197.29 is the third-highest behind Jofra Archer (198.46) and Russell (197.87). Even more impressively, Curran’s strike rate of 177 over the first 10 balls of his innings is better than anyone else in IPL history.
MS Dhoni has famously never hit a boundary off Narine in the IPL. That run of no fours and sixes extends to 12 meetings, which have produced 29 runs off 59 balls, and one dismissal.
Dhoni needs one six to reach 300 in T20 cricket.
Russell needs two wickets to reach 300 in T20s.
Pat Cummins needs one wicket to reach 100 in T20s.