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Talking Points - Is it the familiar mid-season Nitish Rana struggle again?

Chris Morris celebrates the wicket of Nitish Rana BCCI

Nitish Rana has never made a half-century after the first six games of an IPL season.

Over the past three seasons, he has routinely got off to flying starts, only to fade away as the season goes on, a reputation he is aware of and wants to shake off this time around. He followed up a 333-run season in 2017 with a 304-run 2018, with over 50% of the runs coming in his first five innings on both occasions.

Is the trend repeating itself? After starting IPL 2019 with 68 and 63 in the first two games at a strike rate of 162, Rana's form has tapered off, as he has managed just 49 from his next four innings.

On Friday, he walked in at No. 4 with Kolkata Knight Riders on 63 for 2 in the ninth over. Delhi Capitals, though, kept their pace bowlers on, allowing him face just three balls of Axar Patel. Nearly five overs after coming in, having managed a single boundary in 11 balls, Rana fell to Chris Morris. It was a perfect yorker that he couldn't dig out.

Iyer's use of Rabada reaps dividends…

… until he ran into Andre Russell at the death. Rabada went for 12 in his only Powerplay over, the logic being that he was being saved for the likes of Dre Russ and Carlos Brathwaite later on.

Kagiso Rabada had memorably smashed Russell's middle stump in the Super Over in Delhi earlier this season. However, Shreyas Iyer brought Rabada in twice during the middle overs, a phase where had bowled only 18 balls in six previous games. Both times on Friday, Rabada struck, first getting Robin Uthappa in the ninth over with a vicious bouncer, before getting Dinesh Karthik in the 16th. The second wicket was a lucky break, Karthik flicking straight to deep square-leg, but Iyer's experiment to use his strike bowler in the middle period of the innings did work well.

Russell, however, ruined Rabada's figures by cracking 26 off nine balls in the end, but Rabada had done his job earlier in the innings.

Shaw's old weakness makes an appearance

Prithvi Shaw's back foot does an unusual thing when he plays fast bowling. Rather than go back and across to the off side as the textbook recommends, it tends to slide away towards the leg side. It means he plays from besides the line of the ball rather than behind it.

It's a double-edged sword. Staying leg-side of the ball gives him natural room to free his arms and score a lot of runs square on the off side, much like Virender Sehwag did.

But it can make him vulnerable to balls leaving him from the off-stump channel. In the Under-19 World Cup final, for example, Will Sutherland bowled him with a peach that angled in and straightened past his outside edge, leaving him playing down the wrong line.

A similar delivery, albeit shorter, ended his innings today. Prasidh Krishna angled it in towards the stumps and got it to straighten away with extra bounce. Shaw's back foot had moved towards the leg side at first, following the ball's initial angle, and when it pitched and nipped away he was nowhere near the line of the ball to defend it. This resulted in his body opening up in a late, involuntary movement to try and catch up, but by then it was too late, the ball kissing his outside edge through to the keeper Dinesh Karthik, who completed an excellent catch diving to his right.

What's happening to bat-first KKR of late?

You'd think a side packed with power-hitters like Chris Lynn, Sunil Narine and Andre Russell would have a good record batting first, especially with a strong bowling attack to defend totals. The results, though, say something else. Since 2017, Knight Riders have a 6-9 win-loss record batting first, an equation which flips to 16-7 while fielding first. It also explains why, since 2015, they have never once chosen to bat first after winning the toss.

Some of the reasons for this lopsided record have been on view this season. Narine and Lynn, in particular, have fired far more often with a target to chase. Top-order collapses (against Capitals and Super Kings) and a middle-overs slowdown that was on view on Friday night have left Russell and the bowling attack with too much to do. Russell, in particular, has produced rescue acts - and, a couple of times, miracles - to bail them out of tricky situations.

Even in a thumping for his side, Russell's 21-ball 45 (a full four runs per over more than Knight Riders' innings run rate) and a crucial early wicket made him the most impactful player from either side, as per ESPNcricinfo's Smart Stats. Without him, where would Knight Riders be on the points table?