It is crunch time in the IPL as the proverbial four-pointer fixture between the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and the Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) takes centrestage in Pune. Lose and it is curtains for KKR, who still have to take on the Lucknow Super Giants (LSG) in their final fixture of the league phase. As for SRH, a victory is crucial but not compulsory, with the Orange Army still having two fixtures remaining. In terms of momentum, KKR have the undoubted edge, having outplayed the Mumbai Indians (MI) in their last game, whereas SRH enter the match on the back of four consecutive defeats.
Earlier this season, SRH made it a bitter Bengali New Year for KKR fans as they thrashed the men in purple and gold by seven wickets at the Brabourne Stadium on April 15. T. Natarajan picked up three wickets for SRH while Rahul Tripathi and Aiden Markram made light work of the chase with seamless half centuries. For KKR, whose batters let them down once more, the sole highlight was the partnership between Nitish Rana and Andre Russell for the seventh wicket.
Before KKR look to take their next step as part of Mission Improbable, My Kolkata identifies the key battles that will separate the winners from the losers.
Tim Southee versus Kane Williamson
Having played together for New Zealand for years, Kane Williamson and Tim Southee know each other’s games inside outBlackCaps/Twitter
Perhaps nobody in world cricket understands Southee, the bowler, more than Williamson, his long-time compatriot and captain for the Kiwis. It comes as little surprise then that Southee has never been able to dismiss Williamson in the IPL, with the master batter notching 28 runs off 16 balls in their face-offs. Having said that, form is not on Williamson’s side, which suggests that he will be under pressure to settle down and score big. Southee’s ability to move the ball away from the right hander should make for an interesting subplot within this battle, especially with Williamson prone to probing outside his off stump at the start of the innings.
Andre Russell versus Umran Malik
Andre Russell was back in his familiar role of conjuring a one-man rescue act against SRH in the reverse fixtureBCCI
Even though Malik could not get Russell’s wicket in the reverse fixture, the West Indian could only muster two runs off the six balls he faced from the fastest bowler in the competition. This meant that Russell’s strike rate against Malik was a paltry 33, while against the other SRH bowlers it rocketed to 236, during his knock of 49 not out. Every IPL team knows that Russell is uncomfortable against the quick, short ball, something Malik has become an expert at this season. But if KKR are to win this match, Russell will have to find a way of neutralising Malik’s pace and forcing him off his length, either by trusting his full-blooded pulls or by improvising and getting Malik to bowl fuller.
Shreyas Iyer versus Bhuvneshwar Kumar
Despite enduring an indifferent season, Bhuvneshwar Kumar remains a force to be reckoned with, chiefly with the new ballBCCI
It has been far from a vintage season for Iyer and Bhuvneshwar, both of whom have wilted somewhat under the burden of expectations and put in underwhelming performances in their previous showdown in Mumbai in April. But on Saturday night, the onus will still be on them to emerge as protagonists in a must-win game, with history firmly in Bhuvneshwar’s corner. In their past meetings, Bhuvneshwar has dismissed the KKR skipper thrice, with Iyer striking at less than 100 in the eight overs he has faced of Bhuvneshwar. If KKR lose a couple of quick wickets, Iyer could be even more vulnerable against his nemesis, particularly to the ball that nips back in instead of holding its line or moving away off the pitch.