Virat Kohli's time as Royal Challengers Bangalore captain is coming to an end, and his team will be keen to have him finish on a high as they resume their IPL season in the UAE. First up for them is Eoin Morgan's Kolkata Knight Riders, in Abu Dhabi. Follow ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball commentary here. And our Hindi coverage here.
A rollicking re-start for KKR
So a thumping win after a dominant performance from Kolkata Knight Riders. That break in the middle has meant a new look to their XI, and suddenly it looks like this team will go right till the end in the league stages. They have a few more matches in Abu Dhabi, and on tonight's evidence, they have the bowling attack to challenge the best. That will literally be put to test against Mumbai Indians, whom they face next. For now, they're up at fifth place with a good net run-rate.
For RCB, nothing to panic about yet, they are third with ten points and a couple of wins away from sealing a qualifiers' spot. They had some forced changing to do, though, and it didn't look inspiring today. But that has always been the case with this team when their top two batters don't get runs. They now also have the worst net run-rate of the tournament. They move on to Sharjah to play Chennai Super Kings next and it will be vastly different batting conditions there; a nice place to go to after a batting failure.
That closes off the Live Report for tonight. Vishal Dikshit will have the full match report up soon and we will bring you the post-match reactions from both teams over the course of the night. Go well.
How do you rate this refurbished XI?
"You keep him level, and you get the best out of Russell"
Looking back at KKR's bowling innings again, and here is Ian Bishop on him, saying that it's a bit of an illusion that Russell is past his best with the ball.
Who is Venkatesh Iyer?
An excerpt below from Shashank Kishore's piece. You can read the full story here.
Comprehensive from KKR
This is a lovely return to IPL cricket for a team that was itching to turn things around; they have set themselves up for what should be a big win, and that kind of a start to this second half will do wonders. Tonight has also been a vindication of their team combination. They showed faith in Russell as a fifth bowler, shored up their batting, and they have judged that bit to perfection - he does look fitter than he did last time round. Complemented the other two fast bowlers perfectly, and ripped out de Villiers' stumps first ball; that lower-middle order stood no chance at rebuilding against the quality of two mystery spinners. Chakravarthy and Narine capped off their bowling plans perfectly.
A forgettable return
How the team combination changed Russell's duties
You'll see from the numbers in the screenshot below (last two seasons, before tonight) that KKR have used Russell as a death-overs bowler. You best remember him going around the wicket, bowling wide yorkers to right-handers with two sweepers on the off side. That is because KKR have often had six, sometimes seven bowling options. It's easy to use Russell as a specialist at the death in that case.
Today, with the extra batter in Iyer and fewer bowling options, he's had two overs in the middle-overs. He might well bowl the last two at the death, but his usage up front has paid off. A good skill of his is the bouncer, which he shies away from at the death given the circumstances. On a two-paced pitch in the middles overs, it worked nicely for Bharat before he slipped in his customary yorker to get de Villiers first ball. At the end of the 11th over, KKR will have only four overs left from their fast bowlers. It has come with the reward of four wickets, which means they can use their two mystery spinners to really tie RCB up as they focus on safety for a while.
If you were wondering why they opened with Chakravarthy, you only need to look at what happened last time these two played. They brought him on to get Kohli, got an extra powerplay wicket in the bargain, and then held him back for later when de Villiers was expected. That could also be the case tonight.
And while you're at it, head over to our AI-based stats engine AskCricinfo to play around and find out what phases Chakravarthy is best in. To start you off, I've looked up Kohli vs Chakravarthy match-wise.
RCB often had Washington Sundar and Shahbaz Nadeem playing together, both allrounders, both spinners who bat. With Sundar going out, the combination was bound to pivot on who the spin-bowling allrounder would be; by using the overseas slot on Wanindu Hasaranga, it then came down to how much batting they expected out of Nadeem. As it turns out, they'd rather use two specialist batters in KS Bharat and Sachin Baby rather than going with someone who might bat 10 balls and give you 2 overs as a sixth bowler. That duty is now going to be passed on to Glenn Maxwell. Bharat's inclusion also means AB de Villiers will likely be in the outfield.
Not a whole lot of difference to KKR's set-up tonight. They too have gone with the extra batter in Venkatesh Iyer (who made 198 and was run out in the 47th over in his last competitive game) and have batting depth with Narine slotting into that lower order. They have also accounted for the loss of Cummins as a batter with this combination, and, as expected, Lockie Ferguson replaces him.
I'll be honest - I've felt a little lost coming back into IPL coverage for this season. Cricket moves fast and context setting can get difficult, especially if a tournament is stretched months apart. Thankfully, Gaurav Sundararaman has us of the foggy minds covered:
Squad changes from first phase
In: Tim David, Wanindu Hasaranga, Dushmantha Chameera, George Garton, Akash Deep
Out: Finn Allen, Adam Zampa, Daniel Sams, Kane Richardson, Washington Sundar
Contributions from Harshal Patel, Glenn Maxwell and Devdutt Padikkal showed that Royal Challengers Bangalore were no more dependent on just Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. The franchise has also got some attractive replacements who have the potential to be X-factor players.
2020 UAE strategy
That revolved around Yuzvendra Chahal and Chris Morris, both of whom played a key role in the last IPL. Chahal will be hurting after failing to make the World Cup squad, but he remains the lead spinner for Royal Challengers and his form could once again be a key factor.
Challenges for 2021
Can Royal Challengers qualify for the playoffs as they did last year? Perhaps, if they find the right balance in the absence of Washington Sundar, who is recovering from a finger injury picked up at the outset of the Test series in England. For a like-for-like replacement, they might have to look at their overseas contingent, which will force at least one more change. Also, in case Harshal's cutters fail on the faster UAE pitches, the team will need to find the right bowling combination without losing momentum.
Squad changes from first phase
In: Tim Southee
Out: Pat Cummins
Knight Riders' spinners, as well as their aggressive batters like Andre Russell, Pat Cummins and Nitish Rana, showed their prowess in the first half of the season. Russell even took a five-wicket haul and was striking at 166. His 2021 CPL form augurs well for Knight Riders in the UAE. Varun Chakravarthy and Sunil Narine are their biggest weapons with the ball and are not dependent on conditions. While Narine opted out of the T20 World Cup, he has been in good form in the CPL with the ball in hand. Chakravarthy will walk in upbeat, too, having made it to the India squad for the T20 World Cup and it was in the UAE where he announced himself last IPL.
2020 UAE strategy
Knight Riders' all-round team approach seemed to be working for a while. Chakravarthy, who was the team's leading wicket-taker (17) dominated the match-ups while Shubman Gill and Eoin Morgan made an impact in the batting department. But the inconsistency of Dinesh Karthik, along with the failure of Russell the batter who also had to battle fitness issues meant Knight Riders lost out in the race for the play-offs, finishing fifth eventually.
Challenges for 2021
Slow, struggling starts by the top order followed by a stuttering middle order were the biggest concerns for the Knight Riders in the first half. They lost 12 wickets in the powerplay and averaged just 25.75. Gill and Morgan were striking at 117 and 112 respectively, with an average of 15.33 and 18.85. As head coach Brendon McCullum plainly put it, his team were "paralysed by the fear of failure". Can Knight Riders now overcome that fear?
A fresh start
A fresh start is only sought by those who have had a bad first attempt, so Knight Riders might will be among the teams in this tournament who have savoured the break; two wins from seven games for them so far, and a chance to turn that around in different conditions, on different surfaces, and with none of the baggage that comes when you get into a losing streak in a tournament as fast-paced as this one.
Royal Challengers might not quite have welcome it after taking off quickly, to their best start of an IPL season ever; they have five wins and two losses in their seven, the opposite of Knight Riders. And quite a lot has changed in that time. Four players have been replaced in their roster - arguably better players for their team balance - and they are now entering a phase with it's own mysterious intrigue: the final chapter of Virat Kohli as captain. It's easy to imagine that they'll want to send him off with a title he has watched fizz by for 12 years, sometimes at a distance, and sometimes right out of his hands. It all begins tonight, with his 200th IPL game. This team combo without Washington Sundar and with the arrival of Tim David and Wanindi Hasaranga in particular is one to keep an eye on.