Barely 10 days after being decimated by the bludgeoning blade of AB de Villiers, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) will set out to banish those painful memories when it takes on Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.
That heavy 82-run defeat was followed by an eight-wicket thrashing by Mumbai Indians in Eoin Morgan’s first match as captain, leaving the side in disarray. Key bowler Sunil Narine was benched for both games after having been reported for a “suspected illegal bowling action”.
But a Lockie Ferguson-inspired Super Over victory over Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) has helped the two-time champion arrest the slide. What has also brought back a few smiles is news of Narine’s action being cleared and taken off the warning list. The hope is now for an all-round power-packed performance that has eluded the side thus far.
The RCB of 2020, though, doesn’t appear like the side that will oblige. Enjoying its best run in recent years, the outfit is third in the table (on 12 points, two ahead of KKR in fourth). It recovered well from a blip against King XI Punjab, thanks again to de Villiers the maverick, who this time whipped the Rajasthan Royals bowlers.
South African Chris Morris has lent the side’s bowling a cutting-edge, having picked up nine wickets in the last four matches. His presence has also provided some much-needed batting firepower lower down the order.
However, it will do the three-time finalist a lot of good, if its top-order batsmen can up the scoring rate. While Kohli and Devdutt Padikkal have been among the runs, scoring 347 and 296 runs respectively, RCB has required de Villiers to score at more than double their strike-rates to bail the team out.
For KKR, it remains to be seen if Narine makes the squad. Ferguson has made himself indispensable, with a match haul of five wickets against SRH, including two in the Super Over. The places of captain Morgan and lead bowler Pat Cummins are seemingly set in stone, leaving only star all-rounder Andre Russell.
While most KKR batsmen have scored in spurts, Russell’s form is a genuine worry, with the West Indian having scored just 92 runs from nine innings. There are question marks over his fitness too; he left the field midway against SRH, and despite having returned to bowl the last over and stretched the match to a tie-breaker, he looked in discomfort. Narine against Padikkal in the PowerPlay is an option worth exploring, for the latter prefers pace to spin.
But with the IPL noting that Narine’s action will continue to be under the scanner, will KKR take the bait?