They stepped out of the haunting Wankhede, where they managed only one win in 10 IPL appearances at the venue, and Kolkata Knight Riders managed to heave a sigh of relief. A brilliant bowling performance, clubbed with a counter-punching knock from Rahul Tripathi and a gritty 47 from captain Eoin Morgan helped KKR snap their four-match losing streak to register only their second win this season. KKR beat Punjab Kings by five wickets to jump from the bottom of the table to the fifth spot.
Another go-slow start from Punjab Kings
Punjab Kings have been the slowest starters with the bat, scoring at just over a run-a-ball rate in six matches they have played so far. Monday's performance was just another glimpse of the same when Punjab managed just 37 runs for the loss of one wicket, the dismissal of KL Rahul, implying a run-a-ball scoring rate. Shivam Mavi bowled brilliantly in the PowerPlay, aiming the fullish length against both the openers and the line outside off, conceding only nine runs in his three-over spell. However, it was Pat Cummins who reaped the rewards of the pressure created by Mavi, picking the wicket of Rahul, who managed only 19 off 20.
Punjab have notably been missing the 2018 version of Rahul, who still stands as an epitome for T20 openers with an average well above 50 and a strike rate above 150 in that IPL season. This year, his PowerPlay strike rate has dipped to as low as 98.90, only better than CSK's Ruturaj Gaikwad among batters who have at least faced 30 deliveries in that phase. Unfortunately for Punjab, Chris Gayle stand third on the list with a PowerPlay strike rate of 100.
The go-slow approach has resulted in Punjab accumulating the three lowest first-innings totals this season, one of which was against KKR in Ahmedabad. Is it time for Punjab to rejig their lineup or probably consider the No.1 T20I batsman Dawid Malan, who has been warming the bench for six games now?
What's wrong with Kolkata's openers?
Shubam Gill has been one of the most talented batsmen that India have produced in recent times. Glimpses of it were seen in the recent Test series against Australia and largely in the domestic circuit as well. But in T20s, Gill, despite his decent run tallies in the last three IPL seasons, has had a concerningly slow approach. Barring his debut season, where he scored 203 runs in 10 innings at a strike rate of 146, Gill's scoring rate has dipped to 7.08 runs last season where he had accumulated 440 runs in 373 balls with three half-centuries. This year, he has managed only 89 runs in six games at a run rate of 7.2, two of those scores have been of single-digit.
Nitish Rana, on the other hand, barring the exquisite 80 in KKR's opening game this season, managed only 106 runs more in the next five games, with a scoring rate of 7.32, which does include another fifty-plus score.
KKR can instead look to rejig the lineup by opening with Tripathi, who has played a pivotal role in the top-order scoring 168 runs at a strike rate of 138.8 in six games. In IPL, where he made his debut in 2017, Tripathi has a PowerPlay strike rate of 140.6
Eoin Morgan finally gets going
Besides their opening concern, another batting issue that has troubled KKR has been Eoin Morgan's form. In four innings, ahead of this game, Morgan managed only 45 runs at a run rate of just 6.8 per over, a stark contrast to his scoring rate of 9.39 since 2019 and till before IPL 2021, the fifth-best in the T20 cricket among batters who have at least scored 1000 runs during the period. But those familiar with Morgan's career, especially his IPL numbers, might not be surprised by his batting concerns. In 71 matches in the league, Morgan has had a scoring rate of 7.50 runs per over with an average of less than 25. However, on Monday, Morgan registered his second-highest IPL score since 2018, scoring a 40-ball 47 laced with four boundaries and two sixes. The knock helped KKR end their four-match losing streak this season to register only their second victory and subsequently move up the ladder in the points table from the bottom-most slot.