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regular-article-logo Sunday, 23 June 2024

Openers key to unlock final berth: KKR bank on Gurbaz to fill Salt void & must neutralise Head threat at start

The Motera wicket for Tu­esday’s clash appears to be more in favour of batters with totals of 200 or beyond being a good possibility

Sayak Banerjee Ahmedabad Published 21.05.24, 09:30 AM
KKR’s Rahmanullah Gurbaz is likely to open for the first time this season on Tuesday.

KKR’s Rahmanullah Gurbaz is likely to open for the first time this season on Tuesday. PTI

Arshdeep Singh couldn’t quite come up with anything staggering or outstanding in this IPL. But the Punjab Kings and India left-arm quick did execute something really well, which could serve as a suggestion and message for the Kolkata Knight Riders as they go into Tuesday’s Qualifier 1 clash against Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Motera Stadium.

The Sunrisers had few problems in chasing down the 215-run target set by Punjab in Hyderabad on Sunday. But they also found out that opener Travis Head, one of their match-winners so far in the current edition, has a problem against the well-directed moving ball.

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Arshdeep had pitched it around the middle-and-off-stump area, and the ball shaped away just a bit to clean Head up off the very first ball of the Sunrisers’ reply. With his execution, Arshdeep also showed that if Mitchell Starc — who too is a left-arm pacer — can replicate such a delivery, it can certainly cause headache to Head, who has been having a brilliant time in Indian conditions since Australia’s triumphant ODI World Cup campaign last year.

It was here at the Motera when Head had blasted a century against an in-form Indian bowling attack in the final to help Australia to their sixth ODI Cup crown. That certainly will be in his mind as well as that of Knight Riders captain Shreyas Iyer, who too was there on the field in that forgettable final for Team India.

The Motera wicket for Tu­esday’s clash appears to be more in favour of batters with totals of 200 or beyond being a good possibility. Dew, though, will most likely not be a factor because of the excessive heat. At the same time, the pitch underwent a fair bit of watering on Monday evening, which implies quicks too could have their way if they don’t bowl too short or too full.

Starc’s first spell thus assumes huge significance. Having some idea of his Australia teammate’s weaknesses, Starc is capable enough to make things tougher for Head and his problematic footwork.

That said, the margin of error for Starc and the other KKR bowlers is little given how well Head has been striking the ball and how quickly the southpaw has been picking the lengths. In fact, his opening partner Abhishek Sharma batting in the same flow has made matters easier for Head.

In other words, the Knights could be in for a very hard time if they can’t negate this dangerous opening pair early. They do have their spin duo and game-changers Varun Chakravarthy and Sunil Narine, which should boost their confidence.

“We know how deadly the Sunrisers openers can be. But we have seen how they go about their business. So, we’re quite confident of tackling them,” Chakravarthy said on Monday, the eve of Qualifier 1.

Not just Head and Abhis­hek, but keeping Heinrich Klaasen at bay is also a task for the KKR bowlers. The South African keeper-batter’s 29-ball 63 had almost snatched the game away from the Knights at Eden Gardens back on March 23 — the last meeting between the two teams.

However, the Knights aren’t too far behind in terms of power-hitting. If Narine gets into his groove and keeps dispatching everything away, it will be ominous signs for Pat Cummins and Co. The same goes with Andre Russell.

For Narine though, it would help if Rahmanullah Gurbaz turns out to be as effective as Phil Salt as his opening partner. Gurbaz did prove his mettle upfront last year in some matches and has been growing in experience. The only aspect that could be a concern for the Afghanistan keeper-batter is not having any game time for almost two months.

But team morale is a big factor and the Knights sh­ould be certainly ahead on that count having topped the charts in the league phase. Momentum matters.

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