KKR’s intimidating middle-order hasn’t yet found its groove, while RCB have ticked off a fair few boxes
The Royal Challengers Bangalore and Virat Kohli are not in this position very often: top of the table, the only unbeaten side after two rounds of games, and with a chance to complete a hat-trick of wins in IPL 2021. But they would be wary of reaching grand conclusions just yet, because the last time they won their first two games (IPL 2014), they crashed and burned to finish the league stage at seventh spot. And therefore, Kohli’s men need to continue doing what’s got them success so far, while ironing out the few flaws they’ve had.
Going into the game, what will give them confidence is that it’s their third straight game in Chennai. They’ve won batting first and second on the Chepauk surface. Glenn Maxwell has looked comfortable at No. 4, and the presence of AB de Villiers at No. 5 has given their batting order a new dimension, helping them shed the ‘top heavy’ tag. Their other positive – and it’s a big one when it comes to the Royal Challengers – is that they have taken 18 wickets in two games.
Their opponents, the Kolkata Knight Riders will be looking to brush aside the nightmarish defeat they had on Tuesday. Looking comfortable midway through their chase of Mumbai Indians’ 152, they crumbled to a combination of spin and tidy death bowling, with Andre Russell, in particular, looking out of his depth. Mumbai troubled the Knight Riders with legspinner Rahul Chahar and left-arm spinner Krunal Pandya, and the Royal Challengers have Yuzvendra Chahal and Shahbaz Ahmed who can do similar things.
However, not everything in the Knight Riders camp is gloomy: The relatively inexperienced top order has been promising, spin and death-overs bowling has been good and even in the Mumbai defeat, they dominated for most of the contest. The issue lies in what is considered their strength – the big-hitting middle order – and if that falls in place, Knight Riders have the ability to play the perfect T20 game.
What’s going to be different, though, is that it’s the first afternoon game of the season. It’s going to be hot in Chennai, dew won’t play a role, and the surface will be dryer than usual. It is also the final league game for both teams at Chepauk.
In the news
Royal Challengers allrounder Daniel Sams, traded from Delhi Capitals after last season, has completed his quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19 before the season. He has joined the camp and is available for selection.
Royal Challengers Bangalore 1 Virat Kohli (capt), 2 Devdutt Padikkal, 3 Shahbaz Ahmed, 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 AB de Villiers (wk), 6 Dan Christian/Daniel Sams, 7 Washington Sundar, 8 Kyle Jamieson, 9 Harshal Patel, 10 Mohammad Siraj, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Shubman Gill, 2 Nitish Rana, 3 Rahul Tripathi, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 6 Andre Russell, 7 Shakib Al Hasan, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Prasidh Krishna, 11 Varun Chakravarthy
- The way Russell struggled against Krunal in the Knight Riders’ last game, Kohli may use Ahmed’s spin for when Russell comes out to bat. The key for Ahmed will be to replicate Krunal’s skiddy pace, otherwise, Russell will have the time to either get under the ball or free his arms.
- The Knight Riders could continue using their spinners in the powerplay. Kohli has a strike-rate of 124 against Harbhajan Singh and 112 against Shakib Al Hasan in T20s. On the other hand, Prasidh Krishna is best kept away from Kohli. He has a strike-rate of 208 against the quick.
Stats that matter
- Kohli needs 56 to become the first to reach 6000 IPL runs. He also loves facing Knight Riders. Since IPL 2018, they are the only team that Kohli averages 50+ against and his best strike-rate (146) too is against them. However, it’s been six games since Kohli has not got an IPL fifty, his second-worst streak since IPL 2015.
- Royal Challengers are Russell’s favourite IPL opponents. He has scored 339 runs in 152 balls at an average of 48.4 and a strike-rate of 223 against them. He is also the Knight Riders’ best finisher with the ball since IPL 2018, with 18 wickets and collecting one every 9.7 deliveries in the final four overs.
- Yuzvendra Chahal has been wicketless this season, conceding 70 runs in eight overs.
Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @sreshthx