Capitals wait on Stoinis availability; Knight Riders may prefer Shakib over Russell again in knockout
Kolkata Knight Riders have been on a fairytale ride since the UAE leg of the tournament began. Their top-order batters have scored consistently at a brisk pace and their spinners have stifled oppositions on sluggish tracks. Even though Eoin Morgan hasn’t struck form with the bat, he has led Knight Riders to six wins in the last eight matches. Now they are in Qualifier 2, one step away from the final.
Meanwhile, Delhi Capitals have been the most consistent IPL side in recent years – they are the only ones to qualify for the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. The key to their success has been identifying their best XI early and changing it only when forced to do so.
This season, Capitals topped the league stage despite missing Marcus Stoinis for five games. But after their defeat to Chennai Super Kings in Qualifier 1, cracks seem to have emerged in their line-up. In the absence of Stoinis, their balance looks comprised, while R Ashwin’s bowling form is giving them headaches. Can they regroup quickly and make it to their second successive final?
The chasing teams have won five out of seven games in Sharjah so far this season. Moreover, four of Capitals’ five losses this season have come while batting first, while Knight Riders have won on all five occasions when chasing during the UAE leg of the tournament. So it will not be a surprise if both teams are looking to bowl first.
In the news
Andre Russell is still recovering from his hamstring injury. According to West Indies coach Phil Simmons, Russell has been batting in the Knight Riders nets and is “running at a certain level”. But given the slow nature of the Sharjah surface, Knight Riders could continue with Shakib Al Hasan even if Russell regains full fitness in the next 24 hours.
Rishabh Pant had hoped for Stoinis to be fit for Qualifier 1. That didn’t happen but Capitals will be keeping a close eye on him. If available, Stoinis will replace Tom Curran in the side.
Delhi Capitals: 1 Prithvi Shaw, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Shreyas Iyer, 4 Rishabh Pant (capt & wk), 5 Shimron Hetmyer, 6 Marcus Stoinis/Tom Curran, 7 Axar Patel, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Anrich Nortje, 11 Avesh Khan
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Shubman Gill, 2 Venkatesh Iyer, 3 Rahul Tripathi, 4 Nitish Rana, 5 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 6 Eoin Morgan (capt), 7 Shakib Al Hasan, 8 Sunil Narine, 9 Lockie Ferguson, 10 Varun Chakravarthy, 11 Shivam Mavi
- Capitals have tried Lalit Yadav, Steven Smith, Ripal Patel and Curran to fill the Hulk-sized hole Stoinis has left behind. But none of them offers the balance Stoinis provides, by being a finisher who can bowl seam-up. A left-field option could be going back to Smith as the Sharjah pitch is likely to suit his style of batting. But given R Ashwin’s form, Capitals could continue with Curran.
- If Knight Riders go unchanged, they will have five left-hand batters in the top eight. On the face of it, that should work in Ashwin’s favour, but a closer look tells he doesn’t have particularly impressive numbers against them in T20 cricket: 74 runs off 35 balls (no dismissal) against Nitish Rana, 60 runs in 21 balls (no dismissal) against Sunil Narine, 32 runs off 23 balls (two dismissals) against Eoin Morgan. He has a favourable match-up only against Shakib: 30 runs in 31 balls and two dismissals. Generally, Ashwin is an economical bowler in powerplay but there Shubman Gill has taken him for 38 runs in 25 balls without getting out.
- While Rana has butchered offspinners, he has struggled against Axar Patel. The left-arm spinner has dismissed him twice in 22 balls while conceding only 23 runs. So it will be interesting to see how Capitals use their spinners.
- Knight Riders can once again promote Narine up the batting order, especially when the spinners are operating. In T20 cricket, Narine has a strike rate of 287.5 against Ashwin and 187.5 against Axar. Neither bowler has been able to dismiss him in a combined 29 balls.
- Instead of Kagiso Rabada, Capitals could use Anrich Nortje at the death. Rabada has a death-overs economy of 10.84 in this season, whereas Nortje has gone for only 6.81 per over. Rabada could be used in the powerplay and middle overs where has conceded 6.93 and 7.86 per over respectively.
Stats that matter
- This season Ashwin has picked up only five wickets in 12 games at an average of 60.80 and a strike rate of 49.0. Of the 22 bowlers who have bowled at least 40 overs in the tournament, Ashwin’s average and strike rate are the poorest.
- Knight Riders have played three games in Sharjah this season. In two of them, against Delhi Capitals and Royal Challengers Bangalore, they didn’t concede even one six.
- In the IPL playoffs, including finals, Pant has scored 199 runs in six innings, at an average of 49.75 and a strike rate of 151.91.
- The teams that have scored more runs in powerplay have won eight of nine games in Sharjah this season.
- Capitals have hit the most number of fours (227) and the least number of sixes (60) by any team in IPL 2021.
Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo