IPL 2020: Morgan, Rana, and two decisions that may have derailed KKR’s playoffs bid

KKR innings, 8.3 overs: Sunil Narine is the second man out with the scoreboard reading 60. With two slow left-armers and one leggie in the opposition attack, it’s got to be another left-handed batsman joining Nitish Rana in the middle. And it is… just not Eoin Morgan, but Rinku Singh – playing his first T20 since 17 November 2019.

CSK innings, 9 overs: The strategic timeout comes and goes, with CSK 58/1. Ruturaj Gaikwad and Ambati Rayudu are in the middle. With the target 115 runs away, it’s got to be the spinners continuing to keep a check on the scoring. And it is… just not Sunil Narine or Varun Chakravarthy, but Nitish Rana – who’s bowled one over in the entire season.

Facing Chennai Super Kings in Dubai on Thursday, Kolkata Knight Riders played good cricket – perhaps the better cricket of the two sides – for at least 25 overs of the contest. Unfortunately, in the middle of both the innings, they made tactical calls that defined the course of the game – with their captain, and their best performer of the evening, central to the definitive action.

Let’s examine the two errors, in the order in which they transpired.

Eoin Morgan (left) walked out to bat after the inexperienced Rinku Singh, a move that sucked the momentum out of KKR's innings. Image: Sportzpics

Eoin Morgan (left) walked out to bat after the inexperienced Rinku Singh, a move that sucked the momentum out of KKR’s innings. Image: Sportzpics

Morgan had walked out to bat in the first 10 overs of a KKR innings in only six of the first 12 games, and the vast majority of those were after dire collapses; his entry points in these six outings, respectively, were 53/3, 14/2, 51/2, 42/3, 14/4 and 10/3. Despite that, he started this game with more than double the runs made by any KKR middle or lower-order batsman in the tournament.

It shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Not least anyone with an idea of the transformed gears of Morgan the T20 batsman in the last 15 months. And you’d certainly expect KKR, with the intent with which they went after the 2019 World Cup-winning captain, to be well aware.

The simple stat is that coming into this IPL, Morgan, along with Andre Russell, was the most destructive death overs batsman in the format since the start of 2019. The more elaborate version of that is that unlike the instant demolition job of Dre Russ, Morgan is the type of batsman who lands greater dents the longer he gets to be in the middle.

In 35 T20s since the high of the World Cup triumph, Morgan has had 18 innings where he’s faced 20 or more balls. In these 18 outings, his average score is 47 runs off 28 balls. Between the end of the 2019 World Cup and the start of this IPL, Morgan had faced 30 or more balls on six occasions – and in these innings, his average score was 63 runs off 34 balls.

Guess how many times Morgan has faced more than 30 balls this season? Once. In a game where KKR were 14/4 in 3.3 overs.

Even if there was some reasoning that made KKR comfortable with Morgan’s delayed entries (there really wasn’t, if we’re being honest), there was nothing that suggested Rinku walk out ahead of his captain in the ninth over. All three spinners, CSK’s go-to options in that phase of the game, would be bowling stock balls coming into Morgan’s natural arc, and the KKR skipper had impressive T20 numbers against each of them to boot: 19/0 off 14 balls vs Ravindra Jadeja, 52/2 off 25 vs Mitchell Santner and 25/1 off 17 balls vs Karn Sharma.

At the point when Rinku got out for 11, having eaten up 11 balls, there were 43 deliveries remaining in the KKR innings. By the time Morgan fell, in the final over, he had only got to face 12 balls.

Even if he’d taken the ‘safe’ route versus the spinners, and ambled along at a run-a-ball to begin with, who do you think was likelier to make an impact on the game after being 11 off 11 with seven overs to spare?

Despite the first gaffe, KKR did get to a fighting total of 172/6 – and kept the lid on their opponents with what was a sparkless first nine overs of the chase for CSK.

CSK's Ambati Rayudu feasted on the part-time spin of Nitish Rana, who bowled despite the regular spinners having overs left in their quota. Image: Sportzpics

CSK’s Ambati Rayudu feasted on the part-time spin of Nitish Rana, who bowled despite the regular spinners having overs left in their quota. Image: Sportzpics

At 58/1, with the required run rate above 10, CSK were in a desperate search for a release, for some respite. Respite followed immediately, in the form of KKR’s top-scorer on the day, Nitish Rana.

Sunil Narine and Varun Chakravarthy had bowled four overs in tandem for just 20 runs at this stage, but KKR wanted to save their overs for the second half, coupled with a sneaky urge to get one ‘weak’ over out of the way. It couldn’t have been more ill-timed.

Faced with the comfortable off-spin coming into his body, Rayudu struck three fours in a row (against Narine, he’s only managed one boundary in 24 balls since joining CSK in 2018). 16 runs came off that 10th over, with KKR inadvertently injecting intent into the CSK chase.

The decision to still not bring Narine or Varun back till the 13th over helped further the momentum; by the time Rayudu fell to Pat Cummins in the 14th, CSK had landed the most telling blow of the match – 60 runs in a 28-ball spell to go from 58/1 in nine to 118/2 in 13.3.

55 were left to get off 38 balls, and despite three top overs from Varun, Narine, and Cummins at the death, KKR would fall short. It may have ended on the last ball, and it may have needed a stellar finish from Jadeja – but the damage was done in that middle period. Twice over.

If it does end up being the sucker punch in the gut of KKR’s IPL 2020 campaign – and it’s more than likely to, considering their net run rate of -0.467 – the narrative would tie neatly, for it has been a season of tumultuous tinkering and eccentric experimentation. That list could make for a separate piece in itself, but to give one example: KKR have fielded seven different batsmen at number four this IPL. Seven. Who are you, the Indian ODI team?

Brendon McCullum, the brains-trust of this KKR setup, is one of few survivors across the entire franchise from the annus horribilis of 2009. Now there’s no way one off season, that too his first in his present capacity, should elicit a huge post-mortem; when your leadership has inspired a brand of cricket named after you, as it has with ‘Baz’, you earn the rightful time to make an impact. But from those ghosts of 2009, perhaps McCullum should have known that there is such a thing as too much experimentation.

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