KKR 169 for 7 (Karthik 52, Russell 49*, Gowtham 2-15) beat Rajasthan Royals 144 for 4 (Samson 50, Rahane 46, Chawla 2-24) by 25 runs
Rajasthan Royals got the best of the conditions but made a complete mess of a chase that seemed to be under control. Chasing 170, they seemed to be cruising at 87 for 1 in 10 overs, but then they – particularly captain Ajinkya Rahane – got stuck against spin and left their weak middle order too much to do. In 96 unsuccessful IPL chases of targets of 170 or lower, only once has a side lost with more wickets in hand than Royals had in this Eliminator: six. Those wickets in hand proved to be no good as Rahane watched the asking rate grow from overs 10 to 15.
Whether Rahane’s innings was dictated by the weak batting line-up that followed, only Rahane can tell. Kolkata Knight Riders, who will now face Sunrisers Hyderabad in Qualifier 2, had no such dilemma even though they got off to a poor start in sticky conditions. Even after being 24 for 3 they – led by captain Dinesh Karthik – attacked the sixth over of the Powerplay; even after they were reduced to 51 for 4 they batted with enterprise; and, when Andre Russell came in with 34 balls to go you knew the bowlers were in for a world of pain.
The crucial toss
With early starts – 7pm – for the playoffs, the dew that comes down later has become a more of a factor, but on the night the team bowling first had another advantage: the pitch, for the early stages, retained some moisture from overnight rain. Royals’ spinners made the most of it with turn and sticky bounce. K Gowtham, the hope for fingerspinners this season, took out Sunil Narine and Robin Uthappa. Legspinner Shreyas Gopal accounted for Chris Lynn, and Nitsh Rana’s short-ball problems continued. Loosing their fourth wicket in the eight over, KKR needed a bit of a partnership – only long enough to make sure Russell didn’t have to play a long innings.
Karthik and Gill rescue KKR
About 30-40 minutes into the match, the pitch began to ease out, at least in terms of variable pace off the surface, and Karthik and Shubhman Gill batted with purpose. They scored 31 in the next five overs without taking a risk, and once Gopal made a mistake they both pounced on him, taking 20 off the 14th over.
Russell demolishes Royals
Russell has taken the art of six-hitting to another level. No matter what length you bowl, no matter if you beat him the change of pace, he always sets himself up for a baseball-style hit down the ground and backs himself to clear the field. Twice in his onslaught Russell was done in. First a quick bouncer from Ben Laughlin had him playing without even looking at the ball, but he swung with all his might and the top edge flew for a comfortable six. Joffra Archer then had him playing a slower bouncer too early but he didn’t bother, he just flat-batted it over long-off for another six. Russell’s 49 off 25 gave Knight Riders what looked like a par total.
Easier conditions, better start
When Rahul Tripathi and Rahane came out to bat, the ball began to skid through nicely, making it easier for them to time their strokes. Tripathi slogged Sunil Narine for two sixes in his first over, and Rahane looked comfortable against the quicks. While Piyush Chawla had Tripathi in the sixth over, 51 for 1 was a good Powerplay score when chasing 170.
Rahane gets stuck
Rahane came into the match with a negative Smart Strike Rate, which – as per ESPNcricinfo’s new metrics to make sense of T20 numbers – meant his aggregate of 324 was actually worth 40 fewer runs. He was without Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes. This was a weird position for him to be in. Should he play the normal T20 game, which is not his best bet, especially when the bowling is slow? Or should he take all the responsibility and look to bat deep? Rahane chose the latter, and even as Sanju Samson batted more fluently at the other end, Rahane just couldn’t get out of the quick sand.
He was 28 off 20 at the end of the Powerplay. He faced 21 more balls for just 18 runs. He faced 20 balls of pace and 21 of spin, scoring 31 and 15 off them. He failed to pick the wrong ‘uns, especially the ones bowled by left-arm wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav, against whom he has batted a lot in the India nets. By the time his innings came to an end, Royals were looking at more than 10 an over. In a line-up in which Stuart Binny bats at No. 5, it was unlikely to happen. It didn’t.