Match Preview – KKR vs Punjab Kings, IPL 2021, 45th Match


KKR are heavy favourites going into this fixture with Kings struggling to settle their XI

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Kolkata Knight Riders have become the team to catch in the race for fourth place. Their net run rate (NRR) is vastly superior to the three other teams vying for that place, and with every win since the second half began (they have three in four now) they have managed to solidify their position further. So much so that even if their opponents on Friday, Punjab Kings, manage to beat them, they will go into the weekend holding on to fourth spot.

For Kings, that seems like an uphill task on current form – they are nowhere close to being favourites going into this fixture. There are patterns they fall into that don’t seem to change from season to season. Once again, it took them time to fit both Chris Gayle and Ravi Bishnoi in, and now they will have to take stock all over again, with Gayle leaving the IPL due to bubble fatigue.* They still have openers batting outside their preferred spots, while an explosive top-order batter in Nicholas Pooran continues to fail in a finishing role. They had drafted in one of the top Indian six-hitters in Shahrukh Khan, who showed he had the goods at this level, but has returned to the UAE out of favour.

A penchant for safety seems to be the reason for those decisions, something Knight Riders have managed to completely eradicate in the second half. And with that has come clarity in their team selection. Even in the absence of Andre Russell, the need to go all-out didn’t fade during their win against Delhi Capitals earlier in the week. They’ve stacked their team in a way that someone will show up, and that has helped offset Eoin Morgan’s poor form. A win will put them four points away from the vaunted 16-point mark that has generally meant qualification, and that is likely to be all they’re thinking of coming into this fixture.

Qualification chances

If Knight Riders lose to Kings but win their last two games – against Sunrisers and Rajasthan Royals – they could still make the last four with 14 points, perhaps without NRR coming into play if some of the other results go in their favour. For them to be in contention with 14 points, though, at least one of Royal Challengers or Mumbai Indians should finish below 16. Knight Riders’ run rate is currently by far the best among the teams in this bunch, which should help in case things come down to this.

For the Kings, the situation is more desperate. If they win their last three and finish on 14 they will give themselves a chance, though it might still not be enough because four teams – the current top three plus Mumbai Indians – can still finish on 16 or more points. If they lose they will almost certainly be out, though it is still possible – however unlikely it sounds – for the teams ranked fourth to seventh to finish with 12 points each.

In the news

On Tuesday, Dinesh Karthik said that all he knew about Russell’s injury situation was that it wasn’t looking too good. The scans were still ongoing, he said, and called it a “work-in-progress”. It is a hamstring injury that Russell has sustained, so the chances of him returning on Friday are slim. Lockie Ferguson limped off and didn’t complete his overs against Capitals, but Karthik suggested that might not be as serious as Russell’s injury.

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