With the fight for the playoffs spot getting more intense with every passing match, KKR and DC faced off in the first match of the weekend doubleheader at Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi has been a jinxed ground for the men in purple and the fact that they were coming out of a thrashing against RCB, did not help either. KKR was in desperation to win the contest and ensure that KXIP and SRH do not catch up with them for the 4th playoff spot. DC, on the other hand, has blown cold in the last match against KXIP. In the last 3 matches, Shikhar Dhawan has scored more than 50% of the entire team runs. While that stat speaks about Dhawan’s form, it also speaks about the failure of the rest of the batting order. With the playoffs fast approaching, DC was looking at this match as an opportunity to ensure a place in the top 2.
Iyer won the toss and chose to field. KKR welcomed back Narine with a resurrected action, in place of Tom Banton. Though that made the KKR tail excessively long it was clear that Captain Morgan trusted his top-order to do the work even after failure in the last match.
KKR started with a new opening combo of Rana and Gill, probably for the left-right combination. Rana played with patience for the first time in the tournament. He knew that Nortje and Rabada are going to rough him up with the short ball and he knew that his technique was not good enough to counter it. He decided to play them out by just turning the strike over. The difference that was visible for Rana in this inning was that he was willing to spend time in the wicket rather than throwing it away- something he had done all season.
However, though Rana looked solid at one end, KKR lost frequent wickets from the other end in the form of Gill, Tripathi, and DK. The pace of Nortje and Rabada proved too hot to handle for KKR as they were reduced to 44 for 3 in the first 8 overs. With Narine and Cummins forming the lower middle order of KKR, memories of the RCB clash began to float in for the KKR fans. That is exactly when Narine came in.
The Narine strategy worked for 2 reasons for KKR today. In his past misadventures with the bat this season, Narine was setting himself up for the short delivery from ball 1. As a result, even if the bowler bowled a full-length ball to his strength, he would be foxed by it. Today, for the first time this season, I saw Narine coming confidently onto the front-foot irrespective of the length of the ball. For short balls, he was just reacting with his gungho heave to square leg, but he was no more waiting in the backfoot for the short deliveries. Secondly, Shreyas Iyer was not looking to spend either of Rabada or Nortje’s over in the middle to dislodge Narine. He wanted to save his premier fast bowlers up for Morgan as he knew that would be the main wicket to restrict KKR to a subpar score. With the medium pace of Stoinis & Deshpande and the loopy off-spin of Ashwin, Narine no longer had the threat of the fast short deliveries from Rabada or Nortje. In fact with the pace of Stoinis, Narine could afford to pull him to square leg off his front foot.
These 2 factors combined with Narine’s excellent hand-eye coordination resulted in him scoring 64 off 32 deliveries. Nitish Rana, after withering the storm from the 2 South Africans, looked in his best touch in the tournament. The typical swivel pull of the left-hander was on display for the first time in the tournament, as he specifically took a liking to the medium pace of Deshpande and Stoinis. His strike rate went up from 90 in the first 20 balls to 152, as he decimated the DC attack for 81 from 53 balls. Narine and Rana scored 150 from the last 12 overs at a mindboggling rate of 12.5 to take KKR to a winning score of 194-5.
Bowling attacks look so different when they have decent runs on the board. Cummins who has struggled in the tournament till now accounted for Rahane and the consecutive-Centurian Dhawan to trigger an early collapse in the DC lineup. Pat exploited the minimal green patches in the pitch to deliver a vicious inswinger to trap Rahane in front of his stumps. Then the Australian used the round-the-wicket angle to give the illusion of an in-ducker to Dhawan. Dhawan played for the in-angler while the ball stayed straight and dislodged the off stump of the in-form opener.
Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant joined hands to recover the inning for DC, but they needed to do it at a rapid rate. Having scored 65 off the first 10 overs, Iyer and Pant decided to take the attack to the opposition. Morgan was waiting for that instant and immediately he introduced Varun Chakravarthy.
I have been stating from the first match of the tournament, that this may just be the breakthrough tournament for the mystery spinner. The amount of confidence that KKR has shown in him in the build-up to the tournament is mind-blowing and they may have just discovered an Indian-Narine in the form of Chakravarthy. Never have I ever seen a spinner who has so many variations and he is pin-point accurate with all of them.
We have seen time and again that KKR has preferred Varun over Kuldeep in the playing 11. In fact, at times he was preferred over Narine in the tough powerplay and slog overs. He delivered with reasonable success on all those occasions picking up a wicket or 2 and bowling economical overs. However, today was Varun’s breakthrough performance that would now make the remaining teams sit up and take note.
The best part about the 5-wicket haul that he took was that in all of them the batsmen were either beaten in the air or, they misread the spin. Hetmeyer and Stoinis for example could not read the off-cutter and the leg-cutter respectively. ON the other hand, Pant and Iyer were beaten in the air. All the batsmen dismissed by Varun have played a sufficient amount of international cricket and hence, it can be safely said that KKR has found their new Narine in Varun this year. 5-12 taken by Varun Chakravarthy is the best bowling figure by any KKR bowler in the history of IPL. And whose record did Varun beat to record the best-ever spell for KKR? Of course Sunil Narine! (5-19 vs KXIP IPL 2012)
Varun’s magic meant that DC collapsed timidly in the middle overs and suffered a massive defeat by 59 runs. KKR’s campaign which was threatening to derail was restored but at the cost of DC, who has suddenly lost 2 in a row. Rabada says there are no signs of concern, but the DC batting is misfiring terribly in the last few matches. Will DC recover in time? Let us wait to find that out.