Injury-hit Sunrisers look to get campaign back on track against below-par Knight Riders

Neither team is out of the running for a playoffs berth, but the odds are stacked against them

Big picture

Sunrisers Hyderabad’s fortunes have fluctuated wildly this season. After racking up five successive victories, they have lost four games on the bounce and two of their key players – T Natarajan and Washington Sundar – to injuries. Their injury-enforced absence has coincided with Sunrisers’ attack conceding 190-plus totals in each of their four losses. Sunrisers now need to win their remaining three league matches to be in with a chance to qualify; if they lose one then they will have to hope that at least one of Rajasthan Royals and Royal Challengers Bangalore lose their remaining games.

Sunrisers have rifled through their bowling options, but Fazalhaq Farooqi, Kartik Tyagi, J Suchith and Shreyas Gopal haven’t quite provided the control and bite that Natarajan and Washington brought. The good news for Sunrisers, though, is both Natarajan and Washington are likely to be fit for Saturday’s fixture, as they look to snap their losing streak and work their way back into contention for the playoffs.

However, the bad news is the duo’s potential comeback doesn’t mask the troubles at the top. Captain Kane Williamson’s powerplay strike rate of 79.52 is the lowest among batters who have faced more than 50 balls during this phase in this season. His opening partner Abhishek Sharma’s form has also cooled off after a hot start.

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Kolkata Knight Riders, too, have had to contend with top-order issues, but Venkatesh Iyer’s comeback and the presence of Ajinkya Rahane, one of the better players of the short ball, gives them hope. Venkatesh’s 24-ball 43 was central to Knight Riders posting their first fifty opening stand and highest powerplay total – 64 for 1 – this IPL, in their previous game against Mumbai Indians.

Knight Riders also found a way to fit both Pat Cummins and Tim Southee into their XI against Mumbai, but they have now been forced to rejig their combination, with Cummins flying back home after suffering a hip injury. Varun Chakravarthy also contributed to Knight Riders’ victory against Mumbai and later, speaking to Star Sports, the host broadcaster, he said that the ball has been coming out of his hand better than it did in the early half of the season. Despite the positives, Knight Riders’ chances of qualifying are slim.

In the news

  • Cummins’ injury is understood to be a minor problem and he is expected to be fit in time for Australia’s tour of Sri Lanka next month. Knight Riders have not asked for a replacement for Cummins.
  • Brendon McCullum will step down from his role as Knight Riders head coach at the end of the ongoing season, and will take charge of England’s Test side.
  • With Sunrisers coming off a five-day break, head coach Tom Moody is hoping that both Natarajan and Washington would be available for the clash with Knight Riders.
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    Likely XIs

    Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Ajinkya Rahane, 2 Venkatesh Iyer, 3 Shreyas Iyer (capt), 4 Nitish Rana, 5 Rinku Singh, 6 Sam Billings (wk), 7 Andre Russell, 8 Umesh Yadav/Shivam Mavi, 9 Sunil Narine, 10 Tim Southee, 11 Varun Chakravarthy

    Sunrisers Hyderabad: 1 Kane Williamson (capt), 2 Abhishek Sharma, 3 Rahul Tripathi, 4 Aiden Markram, 5 Nicholas Pooran (wk), 6 Shashank Singh, 7 Washington Sundar/J Suchith, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Marco Jansen/Fazalhaq Farooqi/Romario Shepherd, 10 Umran Malik, 11 T Natarajan/Kartik Tyagi

    Strategy punts

    • Rahul Tripathi is Sunrisers’ best bet to tackle Sunil Narine. He has taken the spinner for 67 runs off 45 balls at a strike rate of almost 149 without being dismissed in seven IPL innings. Although the sample size is much smaller, Tripathi also has a strong head-to-head record against Varun: 19 off six balls without being dismissed.
    • Farooqi, Marco Jansen and Sean Abbott are all bowlers who swing the new ball or float slower variations with the old one. Against Knight Riders, whose struggles against the short ball have been well-established, there is perhaps a case for Sunrisers to yank Romario Shepherd out of the bench and give him the license to try and bounce out the opposition along with Malik.
    • Stats that matter

      • Bhuvneshwar Kumar has dominated Rahane in the IPL, having got him six times in 15 innings while keeping him to 89 runs off 96 balls
      • Andre Russell has smashed Bhuvneshwar for 51 off 21 balls at a strike rate of nearly 243 while being dismissed just once in the IPL.
      • Williamson’s overall strike rate of 96.13 is the lowest among batters with a minimum of 100 runs this season. Rahane is just behind Williamson on this list with a strike rate of 100.96.
      • This will be Shreyas Iyer’s 100th IPL game.