Spinners lift KKR to top of table

Kolkata Knight Riders 163 for 3 (Uthappa 48, Karthik 42*) beat Rajasthan Royals 160 for 8 (Short 44, Rahane 36) by seven wickets. This season, under a new leader and a change in personnel, Kolkata Knight Riders have banked on a traditional modus operandi, but have also adopted a new approach. Spin, Knight Riders’ longtime asset, first limited Rajasthan Royals to 160 on a sluggish surface. Their aggressive batting strategy then chased down that target with relative ease, by seven wickets, to carry Knight Riders to the top of the points table. D’Arcy Short scored 572 runs in 11 matches, with a highest score if 122* in Brisbane, in the 2017-18 Big Bash League. Almost all of those runs were made on hard, bouncy pitches. On slower pitches in India, his batting hasn’t quite adapted. He began his IPL career with two run-outs, followed by a 17-ball 11 against Royal Challengers Bangalore in a team total of 217. On Wednesday, Short struggled against spin, neither making decisive forward movements to smother the turn nor using the depth of the crease to play the ball later. Eventually, Short was bowled to Nitish Rana’s part-time offspin for 44 off 43 balls. Against pace, he scored 26 off 15 balls, but just 18 off 28 against spin.




Royals had used up the first 10 overs to set a platform, scoring 71 for 2 in that period. Short and Rahul Tripathi then scored 24 runs off the next two overs. Just when they seemed set to launch, with a strong middle order to follow, Royals’ innings fell away. Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler were forced to stabilise the innings after Short and Tripathi were dismissed against spin. Two quiet overs followed. Then, Stokes holed out at the start of the 17th over, bowled by Piyush Chawla. Three more wickets would fall as Royals limped to 160 for 8 having managed just 65 off the last eight overs. That despite Sunil Narine being taken for 48 runs in his four overs, his most expensive returns in the IPL. But the rest of the spinners – Piyush Chawla, Kuldeep Yadav and Nitish Rana – conceded 52 runs off 10 overs and took four wickets. Brisk cameos were all Knight Riders required in a middling chase. Narine, Robin Uthappa, Rana and Dinesh Karthik all scored at a strike rate of at least 125 to ensure there were no flutters in the end.

D’Arcy Short scored 572 runs in 11 matches, with a highest score of 122*, in the 2017-18 Big Bash League. Almost all of those runs were made on hard, bouncy pitches. On slower pitches in India, his batting hasn’t quite adapted. He began his IPL career with two run-outs followed by a 17-ball 11 against Royal Challengers Bangalore in a team total of 217. On Wednesday, Short struggled against spin, neither making decisive forward movements to smother the turn nor using the depth of the crease to play the ball late. Eventually, he was bowled by Nitish Rana’s part-time offspin for 44 off 43 balls. He made 26 off 15 balls against pace, but just 18 off 28 against spin. It was Ajinkya Rahane, unexpectedly, who gave Royals what little early impetus they had, scoring 36 off 19 including four successive fours off Narine’s first over.

Royals had used up the first 10 overs to set a platform, scoring 71 for 2 in that period. Short and Rahul Tripathi then scored 24 runs off the next two overs. Just when they seemed set to launch, with a strong middle order to follow, the innings fell away. Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler were forced to stabilise the innings after Short and Tripathi fell against spin. Two quiet overs followed. Then, Stokes holed out at the start of the 17th over against Chawla. Three more wickets would fall as Royals limped to 160 for 8, having managed just 65 off the last eight overs. This despite Narine’s unusual profligacy.

In an interview during the first innings, Chris Lynn had said batsmen would need to play “with a vertical bat” on this slow, low pitch. His first ball was a punch to mid-off with a straight bat. Off his next ball against K Gowtham’s flat darts, he made himself room and missed a cut, a shot fraught with risk on a pitch with variable – and often low – bounce. A two-ball duck put Knight Riders under pressure. But, as has been the case right through the season, their top order was bent on counter-attacking. It worked again. Narine and Uthappa added 69 for the second wicket off 49 balls. Rana then struck an unbeaten 35 off 27 balls with no pressure of a rising required rate and Karthik finished the innings with a 23-ball 42. With the plausibility of false shots and wrong decisions under pressure, chases with an asking rates of over eight can often get close in T20s, but Knight Riders’ tactics meant they had plenty of room for error. None were made in a clinical finish.