Preview: "Let's meet in three days," tweeted Kolkata Knight Riders, in Tamil, to Chennai Super Kings after Andre Russell powered them to an astonishing win over Royal Challengers Bangalore on Friday (April 5).
Albeit by the social media team, it was almost like throwing a challenge at the defending champions to spice things up before the clash. Not many teams 'challenge' CSK at home, given the MA Chidambaram stadium has been their fortress for many years. This year too, they have won three of their three matches at home.
But it just goes to show the confidence in the Kolkata camp. It has largely been powered by Andre Russell, who is terrorising bowlers across the tournament with his sheer force. No match is over until Russell is out - ask Sunrisers Hyderabad, Kings XI Punjab and RCB. A match is over only when you get Russell out. Ask Delhi Capitals.
Russell's numbers and performances this season need no repeating. But KKR showed on Sunday against Rajasthan Royals that they are not just a one-man team. Russell didn't bat, didn't bowl, and yet they had their biggest win, by eight wickets with 6.1 overs to spare. They've now got plenty more batsmen in form - Sunil Narine and Chris Lynn made runs against Rajasthan, while Dinesh Karthik, Robin Uthappa and Nitish Rana have all contributed at different stages.
Chennai, on the other hand, don't have too many in-form batsmen. MS Dhoni has been among the runs and Faf du Plessis began with a half-century against Punjab last game. But Shane Watson, Ambati Rayudu and Suresh Raina have not found their touch. Yet, they have four wins from five matches, the same as KKR.
CSK's wins have largely been built on their spin bowling, particularly the old warhorses Harbhajan Singh and Imran Tahir. The duo, along with Ravindra Jadeja, combined to concede just 61 runs in 12 overs, choking Punjab in their chase last match.
But if there's one team that can take advantage of the slow Chepauk track, it's KKR. Piyush Chawla, Sunil Narine and Kuldeep Yadav are able spinners. They've also been strengthened by the addition of Harry Gurney, who was Man of the Match against Rajasthan in his debut. Chennai can expect 16 overs of high quality slow-bowling, making life even more difficult for their batsmen.
Thus the game could come down to how well each team's batsmen tackle the opposing spinners. Will Russell prove to be the difference? The last time these two sides clashed at the venue - CSK's only match in Chepauk last season - Russell smashed an unbeaten 88 off just 36 balls to power KKR to 202. In typical style though, CSK found an unlikely hero in Sam Billings to chase it down.
PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Scott Kuggeleijn: The bowler likely to be in the line of fire against Russell is the New Zealand pacer. Kuggeleijn made an impressive IPL debut against Punjab, picking up two wickets although conceding 37 runs. His first two overs cost 27 runs, but he quickly learnt his lesson and unleashed cutters in the death to choke Punjab's chase. Dwayne Bravo's injury means he is likely to be one of only two pacers, along with Deepak Chahar, and how he goes in the death could prove to be the difference.
Harry Gurney: KKR's debutant from the previous match made an impressive start too, picking up 2 for 25 including the wicket of the dangerous Jos Buttler. He has got the cutters and slower balls needed for a wicket like Chepauk, and will be very hard to score off. KKR might have just made one of their best decisions in buying, and playing, Gurney given pitches will only get slower as the tournament progresses.
TEAM NEWS/AVAILABILITY UPDATES
CSK: Dwayne Bravo is out with injury. The hosts are unlikely to make any changes to their XI.
KKR: The visitors too are likely to go with the same side that defeated Rajasthan.
CSK: Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni(w/c), Ravindra Jadeja, Deepak Chahar, Scott Kuggeleijn, Harbhajan Singh, Imran Tahir.
KKR: Chris Lynn, Sunil Narine, Robin Uthappa, Nitish Rana, Dinesh Karthik(w/c), Shubman Gill, Andre Russell, Piyush Chawla, Kuldeep Yadav, Harry Gurney, Prasidh Krishna.
CSK: Harbhajan Singh, Shane Watson, Dwayne Bravo, MS Dhoni (c), Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Murali Vijay, Karn Sharma, Kedar Jadhav, Ambati Rayudu, Imran Tahir, Faf du Plessis, Deepak Chahar, Sam Billings, Mohit Sharma, Shardul Thakur, Dhruv Shorey, Scott Kuggeleijn, Monu Kumar, Mitchell Santner, Chaitanya Bishnoi, N Jagadeesan, Ruturaj Gaikwad, KM Asif.
KKR: Dinesh Karthik (c), Piyush Chawla, Robin Uthappa, Joe Denly, Sunil Narine, Shrikant Mundhe, Harry Gurney, Andre Russell, Chris Lynn, Carlos Brathwaite, Kuldeep Yadav, Sandeep Warrier, Nitish Rana, Nikhil Naik, KC Cariappa, Prasidh Krishna, Lockie Ferguson, Rinku Singh, Shubman Gill, Yarra Prithviraj.
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First Published: April 9, 2019, 7:15 AM IST