IPL 2021: KKR vs MI Game Plan 1 – Kolkata Knight Riders’ bowling in the powerplay and usage of Russell the batsman

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KKR vs MI – The 5th match of the 2021 season of the IPL will see Kolkata Knight Riders taking on the defending champions, Mumbai Indians. The contests between these two sides over the years have always been one-sided with a head-to-head record of 21-6 favouring the Mumbai based franchise. Here we look at some game plans that KKR could employ to break the voodoo against their arch-nemesis Mumbai Indians.

KKR vs MI – Introducing Spin in the Powerplay

Kolkata Knight Riders have been the worst performing bowling unit in the Powerplay phase in the last three IPL seasons averaging 52 runs per wicket and striking once every 37 balls. For context, the second worst performers Delhi Capitals averages 40.5 and strikes every 28 balls. The lack of a specialist new ball swing bowler both in the local and overseas pace department has resulted in lack of wickets at the top. Powerplay wickets are worth their weight in gold and lack of them usually results in the domination of the batting unit throughout the innings especially against a bowling unit like KKR which doesn’t possess a genuine strike bowler during the middle overs phase.

Since 2018, the Powerplay scores of Mumbai Indians in matches between the two sides read as 59/1, 51/0, 41/2, 46/0, 47/1 and 56/0. KKR’s bowling unit have conceded a good start almost every time and let the Mumbai Indians top-order batsmen set the tempo. The only time they picked more than a wicket in the Powerplay was when MI were chasing a deep total of 233.

KKR doesn’t possess a proven gun new ball pacer in their squad and their young pace bowlers mostly hit the deck and lack control which falls straight into the hands of the MI openers, Rohit and Lynn/De Kock. To overcome this issue, KKR should open the innings with Harbhajan and Shakib al Hasan, two experienced campaigners who are capable of bowling with the new white Kookaburra ball like they did last night against Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Rohit Sharma usually struggles against spin in the shorter format and while de Kock murders left-arm spin he’s still susceptible against the other two spin types. The only issue in executing this match-up is the presence of a left-right combination throughout MI’s batting order but the dry conditions in Chepauk still makes it a tactic worth trying. Morgan will also be not averse to this tactic as he himself bowled A Rashid at the top a couple of times against Rohit in the recently concluded T20I series against India.

KKR vs MI – Adopting the English Approach against Pandya and Pollard

Mumbai Indians were one of the heavy scoring teams in the death overs last season striking at a rate of 12.8 rpo, comfortably the league’s best. H Pandya and K Pollard do a lot of the heavy lifting for them during this period. While both murder spin and full length pace bowling, both have an apparent weakness against high pace short-pitched bowling. This weakness was exploited pretty well by the English bowlers against H Pandya in the recently concluded T20I series where the likes of Wood, Archer and Jordan kept banging the deck hard making life difficult for the Baroda all-rounder.

The think tank behind the planning and execution of this tactic, N Leamon and E Morgan also occupy the same capacity in the KKR setup and it’s almost certain that they’ll look to repeat it. They had a similar sort of plan last year with a mix of short balls and wide yorkers but the bowlers lacked in execution with P Cummins often bowling length or lacking direction with short ones. While the likes of Prasidh Krishna and Russell are capable of executing this plan, it would work wonders if they can bring in the pacy L Ferguson in place of P Cummins or S Al Hasan (with Pawan Negi as a local replacement).

KKR vs MI – Promotion of Dre Russ

Andre Russell had a quiet 2020 IPL with poor form and injury hampering his chances. He managed to score a meagre 117 runs from 10 appearances striking at a rate of 144.44 his lowest since 2015. Teams kept targeting him with their best bowlers often bouncing him out or teasing him with wide lines. He’s back this season looking much fitter and all set to enjoy a splendid season. While Russell has great head-to-head figures against most MI bowlers, there’s the threat of Bumrah hanging who has dismissed him thrice in IPL so far.

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Bumrah’s hard lengths and the inward angle are hard to get off for Russell who even tried staying besides the ball to cut it towards the offside in 2020 IPL only to find himself get cramped by the inward angle. So it is advisable for KKR to promote him up the order to take on the spinners rather than expose him at the death to an unfavourable match-up especially considering the presence of Morgan and D Karthik in the lower middle order both having some good numbers at the death.

KKR vs MI game plan for Russell

Russell strikes pretty well against both R Chahar and K Pandya which is evident from the match-up stats below. While Rohit will certainly introduce Bumrah early to target Russell, it’s still a win-win considering the other lesser pacers have to share his workload at the death pitting them directly against the best Indian pace hitter in D Karthik.

While Mumbai Indians have the superior head to head record between both teams, Kolkata Knight Riders have both the personnel and ability to win this contest comfortably. It’s all about playing the right cards and making the right moves.