The penultimate match of IPL 2021 — the 2nd qualifier between KKR and DC, will see two teams with contrasting forms fight it out in Sharjah to meet CSK in the final (IPL as we know it). Here we look into the “before and after” returns of three of DC’s most important players — Shikhar Dhawan, Rishabh Pant, and Kagiso Rabada, and how DC need their “before” selves to arrive on the big stage.
The final stages of IPL 2021 are here. In what has been one of the most difficult years for the tournament, a sense of normalcy can be felt by the fact that CSK have reached the final before anybody else. Who will they be up against though? While DC are coming off two consecutive last over losses, KKR have essentially stormed through to the 2nd qualifier.
DC were the table-toppers and KKR sneaked in to the final four on the basis of NRR. But that has hardly reflected in the way these two teams have played their last two matches. DC’s balance had always been a concern sans Marcus Stoinis. It just hadn’t come back to bite them until now. On the other hand, Andre Russell’s absence has proved to be almost a blessing in disguise for KKR’s balance, especially in Sharjah.
So how do DC reverse the tide? In the game plan for this encounter, we’ll focus on three of their international superstars — Dhawan, Pant, and Rabada — and see how their returns have dwindled and how they need to turn up at their best on Wednesday if DC are to make it through to the final.
Dhawan has been having a dream run in the IPL since 2019. Even this year, he’s third on the list of highest run scorers with 551 runs so far in 15 innings. But the majority of those runs came in the first phase in India. In the UAE, he has only scored 171 runs in 7 innings at an average of 24.43 and a SR of 114.77. Compare that to the India leg where he scored 380 runs in 8 innings at an average of 54.29 and a SR of 134.28, and you’ll see the difference clearly.
Dhawan has always dominated pace bowling, while slowing down a little against spinners, as was the case in Phase 1 where he struck against pace at 145.39 and against spin at 121.37. In Phase 2 though, his numbers against pace have dipped significantly. The average has dipped from 44.2 to 23.8, and the SR from 145.39 to 115.53.
KKR have a world class spin attack which knows how to make the best use of the Sharjah surface. It becomes imperative then, that Dhawan doesn’t allow the pacers to get away with miserly spells and attacks them. He doesn’t have a great record against Lockie Ferguson in T20s, being dismissed thrice and averaging 13.33 against him. But if DC are to lay a solid platform for their middle order, Dhawan needs to compliment Prithvi and find a way to score and score quickly against the pacers.
Pant the captain was in focus in the first qualifier. While he will still be in focus in the second one, it is Pant the batter who will be more important to DC’s fortunes. From the time he first burst on to the scene in the IPL in 2016 to now, a lot has changed in his batting style. He is no longer the swashbuckling, ultra-aggressive batter who attacked at all times and in all situations, and was largely successful at it.
Since 2020, he has become significantly more sedate, especially against spin. Before 2020, Pant used to strike at 162.11 against spin in the IPL. Since 2020, that has fallen to 106.59. His boundary hitting against spin has also seen a steep decline from hitting a boundary in less than every 5 balls to hitting a boundary in more than every 10 balls. He has started playing the middle order anchor role, which is kind of understandable given DC have a weird team balance which only allows them to play one proper, established batter apart from Pant in the middle order, and given that he is captain now which means he feels more responsible.
But this approach has repercussions, repercussions which a certain KL Rahul and PBKS, know too well. While it will be difficult for him to completely change his approach and take on a riskier one like he used to do earlier, it is important that he tries to take the attack to the KKR spinners and does not allow them to settle into a line and length, which if they do, will make scoring runs and preserving wickets, both equally difficult for DC’s batters on the sluggish Sharjah surface.
Kagiso Rabada has been the spearhead of DC’s bowling for quite a while now. He was the highest wicket taker last year, and the second highest wicket taker the year before that. But 2021 has not been the same.
Rabada was especially prolific at the death in 2020, where he picked 20 out of his 30 wickets at an ER of 9.04. This year, he has only managed to pick 5 wickets at the death and has conceded at an ER of 11.31. This was one of the major reasons why Pant decided to go with Tom Curran for the final over in Qualifier 1. So what has changed at the death for Rabada?
In 2020, only 25.36% of the balls he bowled at the death were below 135 kph. He got 8 wickets in those balls at an average of 5.62 and an ER of 7.5. Basically, he was using the slower balls sparingly, and it brought him immense success. This year though, the story’s been different. Almost half the balls he has bowled at the death have been below 135 kph. The surprise element from his slower deliveries has vanished and that has resulted in those slower deliveries fetching just 1 wicket at an ER of 11.6.
The last time KKR and DC met in Sharjah, KKR were able to chase down a modest total thanks to a late assault on Rabada by Sunil Narine. There too, he was guilty of bowling too many slower deliveries when he could have blasted Narine off with extreme pace instead.
KKR are going into the Qualifier 2 as the clear favourites. If DC are to make their second consecutive IPL final, their big boys need to stand up, and turn back the clocks — Dhawan by 6 months, Pant by 3 years, and Rabada by 1 year respectively.