Tonight’s battle was between the 2times IPL Champion KKR and the first-ever IPL champion RR. For both the teams, the challenge was going to be adaptability, as for both the teams it was their first match of the tournament in Dubai. While KKR had played both their matches at Abu Dhabi, RR was used to the unusually short boundaries of Sharjah. The team, who could use the disproportionately long and short boundary of this stadium to good effect, would be the winner for the night.

RR won the toss and put DK’s team in. It was good to see KKR come in with an unchanged squad because I feel this is their best playing 11. Interestingly, KKR is still sticking to Narine at the top of the order and we will soon find out whether Narine is testing the patience limits of his team management with his repeated failures. No different from the last 2 matches, Narine failed to get KKR off to an explosive start yet again.

Shubhman was solid and the clarity, with which he is batting at the top of the order for KKR, only indicates that he has got clear instructions from the leadership group to be an accumulator for his team. At one time, Ian Bishop said about Bangladesh “The Batting line up looks good when Tamim Iqbal scores at the top of the order.” I think, the same thing can be stated about KKR and Gill in this tournament.

Gill was in scintillating touch tonight as well, as he milked the RR attack for singles and doubles and punished the bad balls to the fence. Nitesh Rana provided him with the ideal second fiddle, playing the kind of cameo that the team expects from him. Just when KKR was looking likely to set a solid foundation for the explosive middle-order to take over, Archer struck.

Much like legendary bowlers do, Jofra Archer made us feel like he was bowling on a different surface altogether. While the other bowlers struggled to get any purchase off the wicket, Archer extracted bounce and seam movement to perturb the KKR batting line up. Every time, he bowled he looked like picking up a wicket. He consistently hit back of the length and induced bounce, which seemed non-existent for any other bowler. He accounted for Gill courtesy a leading-edge and DK courtesy a peach of an outswinger, that was good enough to dismiss any top-class right-hander.

Jofra Archer

RR spinners bowled inexperienced lines against the KKR batsmen tonight. Both the wrist spinners, Gopal, and Tewatia made the most basic mistake, that spinners do at the top level. They bowled different lines for their leg-spinner and googlies, making it easy for the batsmen to pick up the length and hit through the line.   

After the consecutive dismissals of Rana, Gill, and DK, Morgan joined hands with Russell intending to give KKR a finishing flourish. Russell hit a couple of extravagant effortless sixes off Gopal and Rajpoot to ring bells of doom for the RR bowling line up. Just when he started putting his foot on the pedal, Rajpoot used the long square boundary to good effect. Russell slashed one outside off stump and holed out just inside the bou7ndary ropes at deep square leg, whereas it would have been a six, had he hit it from the opposite end.

With one batsman short, the KKR inning threatened to lose fizz as Cummins replaced Russell at the crease in the 15th over. This is where the calm head of Morgan came into play amidst the storm. In a way, Morgan is expected to play the same role for KKR this year, that Dhoni has played for CSK over the years. KKR wants him to be the calm head in the midst of collapse or a tensed run-chase. Morgan did exactly that to guide his team to a competitive total with a priceless 34 off 23 deliveries. He was ably supported by Cummins and Nagarkoti, which ensured that KKR posts an above par score of 175.

RR began their second inning with the hangover of Sharjah. For a top-heavy batting line up like RR, the top 3 needed to be responsible in the chase. RR, however, looked to be in a daydream of 60 m boundaries even in Dubai. Butler started on a decent note against Narine, scoring 14 off the very first over. Mayhem descended on RR batting from the very next over.

Sunil Narine of KKR

There is a probable theory I have to explain Smith’s madness at the crease against Cummins. In the first match, Rohit attacked Pat from his very first ball and MI was successful in throwing Cummins off his line. In the next match, Warner and Bairstow treated him with respect and Cummins finished the match with 1 for 19 off his 4 overs. Smith probably wanted to go the Rohit-way this match, trying to unsettle Cummins from the very first over. What he did not take into account, however, was that unlike the match against MI, Cummins started hitting a very good length, from ball 1 and thus accounted for his Australian Captain in the very first over.

Shivam Mavi is putting up an impressive show for KKR from the first match itself both at the powerplay and the death. Tonight, he bowled the perfect length to the in-form Samson. Mavi pitched all his deliveries on a good length, knowing fully well that erring on either the fuller or shorter side can take him to the cleaners. Consistent good length bowling ensured that Samson was unable to drive or pull the ball. Samson finally holed out to mid-wicket, trying to pull a ball that was not short enough- Plan executed, done and dusted.

Next on target was Butler, the third of the holy trinity for RR. Mavi started to find seam movement off the track by his 3rd over. He used it to good effect to bowl a floaty delivery that seamed from off stump line to outside off stump. Butler wanted to have a whack at it but the floaty delivery ensured that he was late into the shot, lobbing the ball to short third man in the play.

The match was dusted then and there, as Rajasthan’s triumvirate was dismissed in the first 7 overs. Uthappa then hit a short ball from Nagarkoti to deep backward square leg, a shot that would have fetched him six at Sharjah resulted in his dismissal because of the long boundary coming in to play. The hero from the last match, Tewatia was castled by Varun Chakravarthy in the 11th over to mark the last nail in the coffin for RR.

Varun shone again after the last match with his economical wicket-taking bowling style. The backing he is getting from the KKR management is definitely something, that he did not get with KXIP last season. If Narine and Varun hit form simultaneously, it will be a nightmare for the opposition batsmen in the tournament.

KKR Captain Dinesh Karthik

The best piece of captaincy from Dinesh Karthik came in the finishing stages of the match. When the match was merely awaiting an official finish, DK kept on bowling Kuldeep from one end. Kuldeep was under confident because of his bowling stats so far in the tournament and the captain wanted to show his belief in his premiere spinner by bowling him when the match was already won. Kudos to DK for this move. Kuldeep must have felt good after scalping his first wicket of the tournament in the form of Unadkat.

I don’t think RR needs to change their team going forward. They may think of including Yashasvi Jaiswal into the line-up, dropping Smith down to 3. But I believe this is the best 11 for RR going forward, as long as Stokes is not available. This was a rare night when each of the top 3 misfired. I hope this won’t happen frequently for them going forward.