Kolkata Knight Riders' over dependence on Andre Russell is no state secret. In fact, it's more by design than accident. However, it is around the allrounder Russell that their team was built. The problem here is Russell, the bowler. He has conceded over ten runs an over, without completing his quota of four overs even once this season.
Against Chennai Super Kings at home, Russell leaked 16 in a momentum-shifting third over. Wickets through the middle kept Knight Riders in the contest but the lack of a fast-bowling option against the likes of Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja hurt them in the end.
Russell's fitness remains the other issue for Knight Riders; having hobbled around and off fields earlier in the tournament, he suffered another injury scare during practice in the lead-up to Friday's game against Royal Challengers Bangalore, but remains in contention to play. Regardless, perhaps it's time for Knight Riders to look at Russell purely as a batsman and pick another seamer, either at the expense of a batsman or a spinner, to give themselves a better chance of restricting oppositions. Kerala seamer Sandeep Warrier could come in, should that happen.
They are up against a side that knows a thing or two about losses piling up, but with playoff qualification only a distant theoretical possibility now, Royal Challengers unwittingly become the danger team you don't want to lose to. If the threat still seems too meek, the availability of the newly signed Dale Steyn should change that, after coach Ashish Nehra described the chances of the pacer playing as "very high".
In the news
Andre Russell has suffered another injury scare; he took a blow to the shoulder in practice two days before the match, and went for X-rays on match eve. While captain Dinesh Karthik confirmed that Russell remains in the team's plans for Royal Challengers, he said a final call would be taken closer to the match. West Indies, too, would be keeping their fingers crossed on this front, given they are due to name their World Cup squad on April 23.
Andre Russell belted 48 off 13 balls as Knight Riders equalled their own record of chasing the most runs in the last three overs: 53. Astonishingly, they did this with five balls to spare.
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Chris Lynn, 2 Sunil Narine, 3 Nithish Rana, 4 Robin Uthappa, 5 Dinesh Karthik (wk, capt), 6 Shubman Gill, 7 Andre Russell, 8 Piyush Chawla, 9 Kuldeep Yadav/Sandeep Warrier, 10 Prasidh Krishna, 11 Harry Gurney/Lockie Ferguson
Royal Challengers Bangalore: 1 Parthiv Patel (wk), 2 Virat Kohli (capt), 3 AB de Villiers, 4 Moeen Ali, 5 Marcus Stoinis/Shimron Hetmyer, 6 Akshdeep Nath/Shivam Dube, 7 Pawan Negi, 8 Yuzvendra Chahal, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Navdeep Saini, 11 Kulwant Khejroliya
The spin trio of Sunil Narine, Piyush Chawla and Kuldeep Yadav have struggled against left-handers this season, conceding 230 runs in 28.2 overs, with only three wickets between them. Will that tempt Royal Challengers to team-up Moeen Ali, who has been in good form, and Shimron Hetmyer, who was left out after a few early failures, in the middle order? With Marcus Stoinis hardly bowling, it might be worth giving Hetmyer a few more opportunities, regardless.
Moeen Ali averages nearly 38 at a strike rate of 171 at No.4 in the IPL. Those are his best numbers in any position in the league, giving RCB enough reason to stick with him in that position. From Knight Riders' point of view, Moeen has struggled most against the googly this season, dismissed thrice off the delivery that happens to be Piyush Chawla's stock ball.
Moeen Ali bowls 82% overs his overs in the middle (overs 7 to 15), but averages just 17 at an economy rate of 6 runs per over against left-handers in the IPL. Will Virat Kohli gamble and throw the ball to Moeen if Sunil Narine opens the batting for Knight Riders?
Stats that matter
RCB find three of their bowlers in the top 10 on the list of most expensive bowlers at the death (overs 17-20) in the IPL since 2015 (qualification: minimum 25 overs bowled at the death). Umesh Yadav leads the way, conceding 12 runs per over, Tim Southee finds himself placed third at 11.6 runs per over, and Mohammed Siraj occupies the seventh spot at 10.7 runs per over
KKR spinners have the second-worst bowling average this season (41.2)
KKR spinners are the second-most expensive this season (7.9 runs per over)
RCB have lost all five matches when they have lost the toss. KKR have lost four of five matches when they have lost the toss