KKR faced off KXIP at the Abu Dhabi international cricket stadium to inaugurate the doubleheader for this weekend. The writing looked clear on the wall for Punjab. They had to win this game if they wanted to stay in contention for the playoff spot. For KKR though, the morale of the side looked high after the come from behind win against CSK. Racking up 2 points from this game would mean that KKR will increase their chances of the playoffs this year.

KKR won the toss and chose to bat on what looked like a sticky pitch to me. DK made an injury-enforced change in the lineup as Prasidh Krishna walked in to replace Mavi. I have always thought that Prasidh Krishna is a better bowler than Nagarkoti. Today’s change, albeit injury-enforced provided Kirshna with an opportunity to cement his place in the KKR lineup.

Shubman Gill of Kolkata Knight Riders

The hero of last night- Rahul Tripathi fell cheaply today to Shami. Nitish Rana followed soon after, courtesy a terrible misunderstanding with Gill. The 2 best consolidators of the KKR lineup got together at the crease after the early jolt of 2 big wickets. The best part of Gill and Morgan’s batting is they keep the scoreboard ticking- no matter how difficult the track is. Batsmen like Gill and Morgan are blessed with the gift of milking the ball into gaps and scoring singles or doubles. The duo played the game that was absolutely necessary at that point, laying the foundation for the likes of Russell and Narine to take over.

KXIP bowling looked much improved from, the last match. I did not give due credit to Arshdeep Singh in the last match report, as I thought he was lucky in the last match to have got wickets. To my extreme happiness, he proved me wrong by his extraordinary bowling in the powerplay as well as the death today. The Indian team has been lacking an able left-arm pacer for a long time, after the retirement of Zaheer Khan and it is good to see the likes of Arshdeep and Natarajan coming through the ranks, this IPL.

Ravi Bishnoi of Kings XI Punjab celebrates the wicket of Eoin Morgan

Morgan got dismissed by Bishnoi mistiming a heave to long-on and much to my relief DK came out to bat at 5. The situation was tailor-made for DK to return to form. Sticky slow pitch; Mujeeb and Bishnoi turning the ball; a solid foundation laid by Morgan and Gill; DK could not have asked for a better opportunity to return to form. He started his inning, doing the basics right- knocking the balls into gaps and picking up singles to keep the scoreboard ticking.

If the match situation was not friendly enough, Mujeeb helped Karthik further with his series of short balls. Karthik clubbed Mujeeb for a massive six over long-on to get into his groove. He punished a few misdirected length balls from Arshdeep as well, but the inside out cover drive he played off Jordan in the 16th over, was the indication that DK has announced himself at the stage of IPL 2020. He raced to a fantastic 58 off 29 deliveries to give his team the much-needed impetus; they needed from the last few overs. He scored his boundaries all around the ground, from third-man to deep-midwicket, from long-off to long on- something that Karthik is only able to do in his purple patch. KKR will hope that this knock will mark their skipper’s return to form in the tournament.

Bishnoi bowled excellent line and length and it is clear now, that he is the lynchpin of the KXIP attack. Though it does not augur well for the KXIP attack, if a 19-year-old leg spinner is your go-to man for picking up a wicket, but Bishnoi has made such a reputation for himself in his young IPL career. At times, today, he was even foxing DK, who is an excellent player of spin. In terms of India prospects, I think if he can continue with his performances consistently, an Indian call up is not very far for young Bishnoi.

The role of Gill’s 57 should not be undermined in this inning, as he dropped anchor from one end allowing his partner the freedom to take on the KXIP bowling. Death bowling again cost KXIP today, as they conceded 63 off the last 5 overs to concede a total of 164 to KKR- a total that was just at par on a pitch that was becoming better to bat on.

KL Rahul captain of Kings XI Punjab

KXIP started with Mayank and Rahul at the helm. With a set target in mind, the opening duo approached the chase intelligently. For the first 4-5 overs, they played drop-and-run cricket- something that Gill and Morgan did for KKR. Mayank avoided the extra risk, he usually took in the powerplay as they looked to build a solid foundation for the chase.

KL Rahul looked sublime with his cuts, pulls, and drives as both of them complimented each other at the crease. Rahul and Mayank put the bad deliveries away to good effect as KXIp raced to 47 in the first 6 overs. KKR was bound to bring their 2 mystery spinners into play post the powerplay, and the game was supposed to be decided on how KXIP plays those 8 overs.

Mayank and Rahul continued their risk-free brand of cricket as they pinched singles and doubles from Chakravarthy and Narine to take 6-7 runs off their overs. It looked as if KXIP had come with a set plan to play out the mystery spinners of KKR, without conceding a wicket to them.

The experienced duo decided to attack the rookie medium pacers of KKR, as they took both Nagarkoti and Krishna to the cleaners in their first few overs. The set plan was proceeding well for KXIP and they looked like finishing the chase with a canter when Prasidh Krishna dismissed Mayank off a length ball to deep mid-wicket. Just for the record, KXIP needed 50 off 34 deliveries with 9 wickets in hand when Mayank was dismissed on 56.

Nicholas Pooran, who played a blinder of an innings in the last match, came out to replace Mayank at the crease. He looked at his fluent best as Rahul and Pooran bludgeoned Nagarkoti for 19 runs in the 16th over. At the end of 16 overs, KXIP needed 29 off the next 24 deliveries. With Russell out of the game due to injury, you would think that the game is over for KKR.

DK gave the ball to Varun in the 17th over of the match, who repaid the trust by conceding just 7 from his over. KXIP now needed 22 from 3 overs. With a set KL Rahul batting at the crease on 70, KXIP would have completed the chase every day of the week. However, that’s when Narine came in and turned back the clock.

What exactly happened in those 3 overs? Why did KXIP suddenly botch a chase, that looked like being in their hands till the end of the 17th over? What did Narine do, that made him seem like the unplayable Narine of old? The secret was that Narine SLOWED it up. On a pitch that was still sticking a bit, Narine slowed it up-something that he has rarely done in his career. Narine’s strength is always his pace and the sharp turn he gets at around 90 kmph speed. For the first time in IPL, I saw Narine slowing it down and mixing up his pace. Pooran was cleaned up by a slower one that kept straight and disturbed the stumps after missing his mighty heave. Prabhsimran conceded 3 dot balls because he was getting confused with Narine’s mixing up of pace. With Narine conceding just 2 from his 3rd over, the equation got down to 20 off 2.

Prasidh Krishna of Kolkata Knight

Prasidh bowled an excellent penultimate over to exhibit his death bowling skills to the KKR management. His general pitch map is just short of good length and the pitch ensured that he got enough to carry from the surface to trouble the batsmen. Prabhsimran mistimed o full pace short delivery from Krishna to cover off the 4th ball of the over. However, the big fish Rahul was scalped in the final ball of the over, leaving KXIP 14 to get off the final over from Narine. The ball that dismissed Rahul was not particularly good. The problem was that he premeditated his slog to mid-wicket and long on even before the ball was delivered. Had he looked to time it off the face of the bat, the ball should have raced to the boundary.

Narine came in to bowl the final over with his newfound weapon of change in pace. Maxwell found it extremely difficult against the wily Narine in the last over. Narine was spinning his faster balls and allowing his carrom balls to go straight- making it more difficult for Mad-Max. The sharp-witted Narine stuck to conventional off-spin in his final over as he realized that both the right-handers need to clear the longer legside boundary with the spin or take the risky option of going against the spin for the shorter off side boundary.

Glenn Maxwell of Kings XI Punjab

Mandeep fell to the trap of Narine, trying to clear the longer leg side boundary as he holed out to deep square leg. The only bad ball Narine bowled in his last spell was the last ball, that Maxwell almost hit for a six. Perhaps, Maxwell with his reputation of clearing the boundary forced Narine to bowl his carrom ball, which gave Maxwell the freedom of hitting the ball with the spin on the short off-side boundary. As luck would have it, the ball landed an inch short of the ropes, crushing KXIP’s hopes of taking the match into the super over. KKR completed their 2nd Harry Houdini win of the season, by just 2 runs.