Having chased down 143 comfortably against the Sunrisers Hyderabad, the Kolkata Knight Riders would have felt like it was a massive monkey off their back having scored their first win of 2020.
But their third game won’t be so easy, as they face the undefeated Rajasthan Royals, who are high on confidence and morale.
Last time they met: Eden Gardens, April 2019
Batting first, KKR were in all sorts of trouble at 3-44 in the ninth over. But a captain’s knock from Dinesh Karthik (97 not out off 50) saw the Knight Riders post a competitive 6-175.
Despite an opening partnership of 53, the Royals found themselves at 4-78 in the 11th over with Steve Smith and Ben Stokes back in the sheds. At 6-123 in the 16th over, the game seemed done and dusted. But a fighting 47 from Riyan Parag and a handy cameo from Jofra Archer (27 not out off 12) saw the Royals win by three wickets with four balls remaining.
The Rajasthan Royals will be feeling they’re invincible, having chased down 223 in a thriller against Kings XI Punjab. Skipper Steve Smith and first drop Sanju Samson are among the runs, with both batsmen scoring twin 50s in the tournament thus far.
Jos Buttler didn’t have a great game against Punjab, but don’t count out an English white-ball champion like Buttler. As for all-rounders Rahul Tewatia and Jofra Archer, they provide real firepower to Rajasthan’s batting order in the death overs.
The bowling has been leaky, but that’s acceptable considering the nature of the Sharjah wicket and boundary dimensions. Dubai is a big ground, so the bowlers will have more protection. Jofra Archer and Jaydev Unadkat are likely to share the new ball. At the same time, spin twins Rahul Tewatia and Shreyas Gopal alongside Tom Curran will have the responsibility of picking up wickets in the middle overs.
As for KKR, their performance in the second game was outstanding. Pat Cummins bowled brilliantly, conceding 19 runs and removing Jonny Bairstow in his four overs. Dubai offers more pace compared to Abu Dhabi, so the Aussie speedster will enjoy bowling on the Dubai surface. With Andre Russell and Sunil Narine in KKR’s top six, skipper Dinesh Karthik went ahead with choosing five front-line bowlers alongside the West Indian all-rounders.
But the batting may seem a little bit too thin. Cummins is a handy batsman, but number seven seems one spot too high for him. Maybe someone like Rahul Tripathi or Siddhesh Lad comes in for one of Kuldeep Yadav or Kamlesh Nagarkoti to strengthen KKR’s top six, and drop Narine down to number seven.
While I like seeing captains take responsibility, Dinesh Karthik needs to stop coming up the order. His best role in T20 cricket is at five or six and with Eoin Morgan and Andre Russel in the KKR line-up, Karthik’s best spot is as a finisher at number six. His best IPL knocks as KKR skipper have come against Rajasthan Royals, and I see him playing another blinder again – this time, down the order.
Both sides will be unfamiliar with the Dubai conditions as this is their first game at Dubai this season. KKR and Rajasthan have balanced teams with plenty of X-factor. Ultimately, it comes down to which side adapts faster to win this clash.
Rajasthan Royals: Steve Smith (captain), Jos Buttler (wicketkeeper), Sanju Samson, Robin Uthappa, Riyan Parag, Rahul Tewatia, Tom Curran, Jofra Archer, Shreyas Gopal, Jaydev Unadkat, Ankit Rajpoot.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Shubman Gill, Rahul Tripathi/Siddhesh Lad, Nitish Rana, Eoin Morgan, Andre Russell, Dinesh Karthik (captain and wicketkeeper), Sunil Narine, Pat Cummins, Shivam Mavi, Kuldeep Yadav/Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Varun Chakravarthy.