Despite an incredible unbeaten 97 off 50 balls from skipper Dinesh Karthik, the hosts at Eden Gardens suffered a three-wicket defeat to Rajasthan Royals.
Steve Smith elected to bowl having won the toss and an outstanding opening spell from Varun Aaron got them off to a great start when he bowled out both openers Chris Lynn and Shubman Gill, eventually finishing with 2-20.
Karthik, with a little support from Nitish Rana (21), Sunil Narine (11) and Andre Russell (14) anchored the innings and led his side to a score of 175/6, hitting seven boundaries and nine sixes during his best-ever IPL knock.
Ajinkya Rahane’s 34 off 21 deliveries got the Royals’ chase off to a fine start while opening partner Sanju Samson chipped in with 22 as well. However, their top order was quickly ripped through by spinners Narine and Piyush Chawla.
Riyan Parag’s 47 from 31 balls proved to be a match-winning innings. Unfortunately for the 17-year-old, he was unable to be there at the end after getting out hit-wicket in the penultimate over.
Nevertheless, Jofra Archer, who leaves to join the England squad beyond this match, finished the job and remained unbeaten on 27 off 12 balls.
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Steve Smith – Rajasthan Royals (9.5 credits)
The former Australia skipper had struggled for large parts of the campaign on his return to the IPL after a one-year absence but has now started to come into his own.
The decision to bestow the Rajasthan captaincy on him seems to have worked wonders with the right-hander stitching together two fluent half-centuries on the trot since taking the reins.
With Jos Buttler having returned home to England, Smith will once again have to shoulder the burden of anchoring the innings and that is something he clearly relishes.
He seemed to be hampered by his elbow injury at the start of the tournament but the shots are now flowing off Smith’s bat and a third straight half-century is not out of the question.
Jofra Archer – Rajasthan Royals (9 credits)
There has been no standout bowler for KKR in the 2019 edition with all-rounder Andre Russell being the side’s highest wicket-taker (seven) so far and as such, Rajasthan’s Jofra Archer is a straightforward pick.
The soon-to-be England capped pacer has been the shining light for the Royals with the ball throughout the campaign despite the team otherwise struggling in the bowling department.
The Barbados-born man has claimed 11 wickets so far in his 10 appearances while his economy-rate has been an excellent one at 6.74.
The Eden Gardens pitch has some swing and zip for the fast-bowlers early on and Archer could really profit from the conditions to swell his wicket-tally.
Andre Russell – Kolkata Knight Riders (10.5 credits)
Russell has not only been the best Kolkata player on show with ball this year with the West Indies all-rounder also leading the way with the bat.
The muscular 30-year-old has battled injuries and niggles throughout the competition but has still managed to deliver the good for his side time and time again.
With the bat, there has simply been no stopping ‘Dre Russ’ with the right-hander amassing 392 runs so far at an average of over 65 and a strike-rate of nearly 218.
With the pressure mounting on KKR, there is every possibility that Russell is sent in to bat much higher up the order and that could translate into a flurry of sixes at the Eden Gardens.
Dinesh Karthik – Kolkata Knight Riders (9 credits)
Even though it has been his Rajasthan counterpart Sanju Samson who has had a better IPL 2019 campaign, it is Dinesh Karthik who gets our nod for the wicketkeeping slot.
The veteran wicketkeeper has only averaged around 20 with the bat this year with just the one-half century to show for. However, with the chips down for Kolkata and the noose tightening around his own neck, Karthik will be eager to bounce back with a strong display on Thursday.
In KKR’s three matches against Rajasthan in the 2018 edition, Karthik managed scores of 52, 42 and 41. The KKR skipper clearly relishes playing against the Royals and they could be just the opponents he needs to reignite his and the franchise’s IPL 2019 campaign.
Plus, Karthik will also want to shut up the critics who have questioned his selection over Rishabh Pant in India’s 2019 World Cup squad.
CAPTAIN: Andre Russell
VICE CAPTAIN: Steve Smith
Two surprise losses to Rajasthan Royals in their last four games have Mumbai Indians nervously looking over their shoulder in the race for the IPL 2019 playoffs.
The other two games in that run were wins against Delhi Capitals and Royal Challengers Bangalore, and they could have put some distance between themselves and the other play-off challengers.
They’d love to be in Chennai Super Kings’ position, qualifying early. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side took care of business by beating Sunrisers Hyderabad last time out to end a run of two straight losses. Now they can relax and watch the carnage below.
CHENNAI TO ROTATE AND TEST DEPTH?
With Chennai having already qualified, the team can start to test its depth. Faf du Plessis, the only batsman who has shown consistent form this season apart from Dhoni, could be rested with Ambati Rayudu given the opener’s slot. This will give the 33-year-old an opportunity to build on his solid innings from previous matches.
There’s also the possibility to test out players like Sam Billings and Scott Kuggeleijn, who have made only a handful of appearances so far – or David Willey, who ended up playing a key role at the back end of last season. Billings’ inclusion would allow Dhoni to take a break as well – he’s already missed one match this campaign due to back spasms.
It’s always risky to make wholesale changes and perhaps CSK would want to wait until they seal top spot, but expect some rotation nonetheless.
Why do CSK make the playoffs every season?— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) April 23, 2019
MS Dhoni is not revealing anything till he retires 🤐 pic.twitter.com/K7nSCak3qu
TIME FOR ROHIT SHARMA TO FIRE
A return to the top of the order for Rohit Sharma was supposed to help both the captain and his team this season. Mumbai have done reasonably well, putting themselves in a strong position to reach the playoffs.
But the move hasn’t worked quite as well for Sharma. The India opener has a top score of 48, one of only two innings where he’s crossed 40. The soft dismissals that have always been a frustrating part of the talented batsman’s game have been more frequent this season, while his struggles against spin are becoming more pronounced – he has now been dismissed by three of the last four balls of spin he’s faced.
A loss for Mumbai here could be the start of an untimely wobble. It’s the perfect chance for Sharma to turn his season around – especially with opening partner Quinton de Kock set to leave for South Africa soon.
Chennai Super Kings: Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (c & wk), Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Deepak Chahar, Imran Tahir
Mumbai Indians: Rohit Sharma (c), Quinton de Kock (wk), Suryakumar Yadav, Kieron Pollard, Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, Ben Cutting, Rahul Chahar, Jasprit Bumrah, Lasith Malinga, Mayank Markande