For Kolkata, it will be a chance to arrest a dramatic slide that has seen them lose five matches on the bounce with the latest coming in the form of a crushing nine-wicket defeat to Sunrisers Hyderabad.
That comprehensive loss has seen KKR drop out of the top-four with a play-off spot now looking in jeopardy.
RUSSELL’S BATTING POSITION
The batting position of Andre Russell in the KKR line up has been a subject of major debate. The West Indies all-rounder has single-handedly taken Kolkata across the finish line on several occasions this year with some explosive cameos down the order.
However, KKR have been guilty of underutilising Russell’s talents by making him bat at No6 and it proved costly in their 10-run defeat to Royal Challengers Bangalore while chasing 214.
Even in Kolkata’s most recent loss against SRH, Russell came in to bat at No7 when there were only four overs left in the innings. When a player is smashing the ball at a strike-rate of well over 200 and average of over 65, it seems foolish to only allow him a few overs at the crease.
KKR coach Jacques Kallis has stated that the side remain flexible with regards to Russell’s batting position while the all-rounder himself has expressed his desire to bat higher up the order. Hence, it will be interesting to see where Russell bats on Thursday.
Just watching the IPL on @FOXSports. Can’t understand why KKR have the master blaster Andre Russell batting at number 7. What a waste.— Mark Waugh (@juniorwaugh349) April 21, 2019
OFF COLOUR SENIORS
That Kolkata have been too dependent on Russell’s big-hitting to bail them out this season is no secret with several other stars in the squad failing to pull their weight.
The likes of skipper Dinesh Karthik and top-order stalwart Robin Uthappa are two such players who have failed to come to the party in the 2019 campaign. While Karthik is averaging less than 20 with the bat this year, Uthappa has only managed 184 runs so far from nine innings.
The two senior batsmen have been the biggest letdowns for the two-time champions and it is no wonder that the team has struggled of late. Post the loss to SRH, several Kolkata players including Karthik and Uthappa were given time off which they utilised by undertaking several net sessions in Mumbai.
Uthappa was dropped from the previous game and it remains to be seen of he makes it back.
DO OR DIE FOR RAJASTHAN
Rajasthan Royals’ decision to have Steve Smith as skipper instead of Ajinkya Rahane seems to have infused a new life into their campaign with the side recording a fine win over Mumbai Indians before amassing 191 runs against Delhi Capitals. However, a Rishabh Pant avalanche saw Smith’s men fail to defend that challenging total on their home ground and that has now left them in a precarious spot.
The 2008 champions will now need to win each of their remaining four league encounters to have any chance of making the play-offs and even that might not be enough. They put together a run of five straight wins to sneak into the play-offs last year but that came on the back of a fine individual campaign from Jos Buttler. The England batsman has already returned home and the Royals will need to find inspiration from somewhere else if they are to make a late charge.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Sunil Narine, Chris Lynn, Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana, Andre Russell, Dinesh Karthik (c and wk), Rinku Singh, Harry Gurney, Piyush Chawla, Prasidh Krishna, KC Cariappa.
Rajasthan Royals: Ajinkya Rahane, Sanu Samson (wk), Steve Smith, Ben Stokes, Liam Livingstone, Stuart Binny, Riyan Parag, Jofra Archer, Shreyas Gopal, Jaydev Unadkat, Dhawal Kulkarni.
It has been some debut Indian Premier League (IPL) campaign for Jonny Bairstow with the England batsman forging the most successful partnership in the 2019 edition alongside his fellow Sunrisers Hyderabad opener David Warner.
Bairstow’s maiden IPL stint came to an end on Tuesday with Hyderabad’s six-wicket loss to Chennai Super Kings with the Englishman being dismissed for a duck in his final outing. However, his contributions prior to the CSK defeat had been nothing short of outstanding with the right-hander finishing his season with 445 runs from 10 innings.
Bairstow averaged 55.62 with the bat in the IPL while maintaining a strike-rate of over 157 and his crowning achievement came in his side’s home clash against Royal Challengers Bangalore where he registered a superb ton.
Motivating himself for his maiden IPL bow wasn’t too hard to do for Bairstow who was not picked in the 2018 IPL auction despite throwing his hat into the ring.
“It’s not difficult to motivate yourself at all,” Bairstow told ESPNcricinfo in an interview.
“It’s a competition that I’ve really, really wanted to play a number of years. You hear stories about people coming over and playing, and it being such a fantastic competition. The fans, how fanatical they are, the atmosphere at the ground.
Jonny Bairstow in IPL 2019 :— Johns (@CricCrazyJohns) April 23, 2019
Matches - 10
Innings - 10
Runs - 445
Average - 55.62
Strike Rate - 157.24
Hundred - 1
Fifty - 2
Fours - 48
Sixes - 18
The best debut season by any overseas player (excluding 2008 Ipl season), see you in 2020. Thank You @jbairstow21. #IPL2019 pic.twitter.com/YDcuSiSuQy
“The whole way it’s put together is brilliant. If you can’t motivate yourself to get up and play in front of 30,000 to 40,000 people, then you’re not in the right job.”
Such has been the impact of the wicketkeeper batsman that he managed to keep out Kane Williamson from the Sunrisers playing XI. Williamson had led Hyderabad to a runner-up finish in the 2018 edition in David Warner’s absence and scored 755 runs over the course of the season.
“With the four overseas players that can play in any team, and you look at the overseas players that we’ve got within the squad, you’ve got four guys that are not playing currently that can be in any moment. So, no, by no means did I think I’d be starting the tournament,” Bairstow said.
“I just saw it as an opportunity to go out there and enjoy myself, and play the IPL. That was purely and simply what it was.
“To experience a new task, a new challenge, to be able to go out and explore the skills that I’ve been working on and go and play in front of a fantastic crowd in that first game at Eden Gardens.”
With Bairstow’s stint now over, stand-in Sunrisers skipper Bhuvneshwar Kumar has admitted that the Englishman will be a big miss for the remainder of the IPL 2019 campaign.
“There is no doubt that these guys have done really well but I won’t say (we are) upset. We have got guys who can replace him (Bairstow),” Bhuvneshwar said after Tuesday’s defeat.
“But the way he performed, we will miss him.”
The hosts chased down Hyderabad’s total of 175 runs with one ball to spare. Chennai are practically in the play-offs with this win, but they do need one more win to seal the spot mathematically.
The breathing space in the top-four has reduced for Hyderabad, with Kings XI Punjab right on their heels and captain Bhuvaneshwar Kumar is aware of the intensity of the competition. The pacer is looking to get three important away wins from their remaining four games and make it to the play-offs.
“It was a par score on that wicket. There was dew on the ground but that didn’t really bother us. The way Watson batted we couldn’t really do much. This is probably the first off day for Rashid (Khan) in three years, anyone can have an off day. The credit goes to Watson,” he said.
“We will obviously miss (Jonny) Bairstow but we have players in the squad who can replace him. We have three away games now out of four and we have to win those games to qualify. We have to be our best to defeat RR. I have learnt a lot doing captaincy.”
Winning captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni praised Watson for his match-winning knock of 96 runs from just 53 balls and defended the selectors’ decision to back him despite poor form. When asked about the Chennai’s mantra for success, Dhoni joked that he will reveal it only after his retirement to ensure he doesn’t go unsold at the auctions.
“I think you can give individuals some games and the team gives them the rest. Watson has been a match-winner for us. He has been batting well in the nets. Whatever small innings he played so far, he was middling them well although he did struggle a bit,” he explained.
“This is the time when you need to back them. The management’s thinking was to give him as many games as possible. And the team winning also means that a player gets more games than he would actually get. It’s good to see different individuals step up every game. Nice to see our bowling department do well but would like our batting unit also get into the mode that’s necessary for the playoffs.
“(On CSK’s mantra of success) If I tell everyone what it is, then they won’t buy me at the auctions. It’s a trade secret. The crowd support and franchise’s support are key of course. Huge credit has to also go to the support staff who play a huge role in keeping the team atmosphere good for the team and other individuals. Other than this, I can’t reveal anything till I retire. It’s alright, not showing signs of getting worse. With the World Cup coming, I need to be careful as that comes first,” the skipper joked.
Watson was aware that he needed a big score to get out of the rough patch. He thanked the coach and skipper for their faith in him and admitted that Kumar did put him in a tight spot with his swingers.
“I was due for runs, that’s for sure. I can’t thank Stephen Fleming and MS Dhoni enough for their belief in me. Most of the teams I’ve played in, I would have been dropped by now but they showed the trust in me.
“Of course, I was doing alright in the PSL and in the BBL too, struck the ball well. Needed some things to go my way, like it did today when Bhuvi was all over me. He is an incredibly skillful bowler as he swings it both ways,” the Aussie concluded.