The Narine gamble and Uthappa's innovations
Why is Sunil Narine opening?
Kolkata Knight Riders have made a massive change to their tactics in 2017. Earlier, Andre Russell and Yusuf Pathan used to go berserk in the latter half of an innings and therefore the focus for the openers - Robin Uthappa and Gautam Gambhir - was to bat long without worrying too much about the scoring rate.
With Russell absent, KKR separated their most successful opening combination to have a hitter at the top. Initially it was Chris Lynn and now, it is Narine. While Lynn was reassuring, Narine has been hit or miss. In the game against Kings XI Punjab, he was 12 off 11 balls before exploding. Against Sunrisers Hyderabad, he consumed nine balls for only six runs.
Why is Gambhir opening instead of Uthappa?
Uthappa averages 37.34 and with a strike-rate of 137.18 as an opener for KKR whereas Gambhir's corresponding figures are 31.64 and 125.30. Considering Gambhir is a better player against spin as well, it is interesting that he has not decided to bat down the order.
How did Uthappa pull a full delivery for six?
The key to playing against spin is to pick the length early and Uthappa picked a shortish delivery from Bipul Sharma as soon as it left the bowler's hand, or perhaps a bit before that. He went deep in the crease and flicked it over the midwicket fielder for a six.
If that was an outstanding shot, the one he played against Moises Henriques in the 11th over was astounding. Uthappa shifted back and across to take him outside the off stump, collapsed his back knee and dragged a ball that was well outside off over the square leg boundary. More evidence that T20 cricket is stretching the envelope of batting innovation.
How was the Uthappa decision reversed?
A mistimed scoop from Uthappa in the 13th over ballooned up towards the wicketkeeper and Naman Ojha, rushing forward pulled off a good diving catch. But the third umpire was called in because the on-field umpires were not 100% sure the ball had carried. Replays indicated it had, and yet Anil Dandekar's soft signal of out was overruled.
This was because the third umpire Abhijit Deshmukh had checked for contact between ball and bat or ball and glove. The playing conditions in the IPL empower him to do so, but since the visuals were inconclusive, it would have been better if Ultra-edge had been available to him since that would have erased all doubt.
Did Uthappa play Rashid as an offspinner?
The impression you get while watching Rashid Khan is that over 80% of his deliveries are either googlies or sliders that come in with the arm. It's only once in a while that the ball turns away from the right-handed batsmen. Even though he conceded only 29 off his four overs, it felt like Uthappa played him like an offspinner. For a batsman, there's nothing like reading the ball out of the hand. But if that's not possible, it's not a bad idea to keep playing inside the line. Also, Uthappa played the length quite well: anything that was remotely full, he decided to go hard and aerial.
Aakash Chopra is the author of three books, the latest of which is The Insider: Decoding the craft of cricket. @cricketaakash