IPL 2021 was the first time that the Royal Challengers Bangalore won more than two games in a row at the start of a season. In fact, they won their first four matches. In a tournament in which they have promised much but not delivered a title, it seemed like just the Royal Challengers' luck that such an event would happen. However, the break might have actually done the franchise good, because they've got a squad that looks rather stronger than the already good unit they had at the start of the tournament. The loss of Washington Sundar to injury is significant, but in the bargain, they have gained Wanindu Hasaranga, Tim David, Dushmantha Chameera and George Garton - a quartet that looks more potent than the ones they've lost: Adam Zampa, Daniel Sams, Finn Allen and Kane Richardson.
In comparison, Kolkata Knight Riders' only replacement between the two halves of the IPL has been Tim Southee in place of Pat Cummins who has withdrawn from the second leg of the league.
At this point, both teams are exactly halfway through their league campaign, and have mirror-image results: the Royal Challengers have won five and lost two games, while the Knight Riders have won two and lost five. That's an accurate reflection of how well each side did in the first half. Whether it's a portent of what's to come in the second remains to be seen.
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With Cummins absent, the Knight Riders could bring in Lockie Ferguson's fiery pace. Ferguson had tested positive for Covid-19 about a month ago in England, but has recovered now and reached the UAE after returning a negative test. The other three Knight Riders' overseas spots are a lock-in, with captain Eoin Morgan, Andre Russell and Sunil Narine - the latter two in good form in CPL 2021, particularly Narine. They have the option of Shakib Al Hasan, but it'll be tough to look past how well Narine bowled in the CPL.
For the Royal Challengers, Hasaranga is expected to slot into the XI straightaway as the fourth overseas player alongside AB de Villiers, Glenn Maxwell and Kyle Jamieson. Washington's injury also opens the doors for Shahbaz Ahmed to be potential starter in the XI. Garton, who had a good outing on the Blast finals day with bat and ball, will be unavailable for selection for the Royal Challengers. He is scheduled to fly to UAE on Monday and will then have to complete a mandatory quarantine period. He remains an unlikely starter for the team in any case.
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Nitish Rana, 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Rahul Tripathi, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 6 Andre Russell, 7 Sunil Narine, 8 Lockie Ferguson, 9 Kamlesh Nagarkoti/Shivam Mavi, 10 Varun Chakravarthy, 11 Prasidh Krishna
Royal Challengers Bangalore: 1 Virat Kohli (capt), 2 Devdutt Padikkal, 3 Rajat Patidar, 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 AB de Villiers (wk), 6 Shahbaz Ahmed, 7 Kyle Jamieson, 8 Wanindu Hasaranga, 9 Harshal Patel, 10 Mohammed Siraj, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal
Dinesh Karthik has a marked difference when coming in later in the innings than earlier. Since IPL 2020, whenever Karthik has come in before the 13th over, he has averaged 12.50 and struck at 116. There's a sea-change when he's come in after the 13th over, averaging 104 and striking at 171. The strategy for KKR should be clear: don't bat Karthik in a fixed position, rather bat him at fixed times. Unless Russell is still in the shed, it would be worth sending Karthik in when a wicket falls near the death overs, even if it means he goes in ahead of Morgan, for example.
In the first half of IPL 2021 in India, de Villiers hit a game-plan that proved largely successful for him. He was knocking the ball around in the middle overs, and exploding at the death. His middle-overs strike rate was just 92, the lowest among batters with at least 50 runs in that phase. However, his death-overs strike rate was 243, the second highest in that phase. de Villiers is adaptable enough to tinker with that approach if the need arises, but his method demonstrates how tough it is to bowl to him once set, which is why the Royal Challengers can afford de Villiers a few balls to do that. Having Maxwell coming in just before him also helps, since the burden of big-hitting is not exclusively on de Villiers.
Stats that matter
Kohli is set to play his 200th IPL game when he leads the Royal Challengers against the Knight Riders. He'll be the fifth to get there after MS Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina, but the only one to do it all for a single franchise.
Kohli is also only 71 runs shy of becoming just the fifth man to amass 10,000 runs in T20 cricket, behind Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Shoaib Malik and David Warner.
Russell and de Villiers have each been the nemesis for the other's team in the IPL's recent past. Since IPL 2019, no one has hit more sixes against the Royal Challengers than Russell (19 - joint most with KL Rahul but in one fewer innings). In that same period, no one has hit more than de Villiers' 13 sixes against the Knight Riders.