Before IPL 2020 began, Mumbai Indians were everyone's favourites, and with good reason. A batting order that had four or five players capable of changing a match, a bowling attack that married striking ability with parsimony, great depth, and possibly the best think-tank in the business. All of that still holds true, but the opening game loss against Chennai Super Kings showed up some cracks in the team. It also showed the effects of little to no cricket for a majority of the players, with uncharacteristic sloppiness in the field, and errors while batting.
Are they cracks Kolkata Knight Riders can exploit successfully? They certainly have the tools to do so, and as the franchise that start the latest in this IPL, they will have had a chance to suss the conditions in the UAE well.
However, one of the issues Mumbai have is a quick thinning of the batting order after No. 7, which could conceivably be a problem for the Knight Riders too. The injury to Nathan Coulter-Nile affects Mumbai's batting depth, and though he trained with the team on Tuesday, whether plays on Wednesday remains to be seen. For the Knight Riders, the batting order almost takes the form of a bell curve, thanks to possibly the competition's most power-packed middle order in Eoin Morgan, Dinesh Karthik and Andre Russell.
Mumbai's bowling is potent, and one off-day against the Super Kings wouldn't warrant grave changes, unless it's for fitness reasons. The Knight Riders will be hoping that Sunil Narine is good for four overs. He was very effective when he bowled in the CPL, but he played as often as he didn't in the competition. The Knight Riders have had a couple of promising quicks in their ranks for what seems like ages, without having them fit. But both Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi enter this season free of injury worries, and you would imagine at least one of them will be in the starting XI.
In the news
If Coulter-Nile is fit, he will most likely replace James Pattinson in the Mumbai XI. Pattinson had a reasonable outing against the Super Kings, bowling quick and getting a couple of hits lower down the order, but Coulter-Nile's all-round ability is likely to swing things his way.
Bowling at the death in T20 cricket requires a different set of skills than almost anything else, and Trent Boult reckons it's "the biggest challenge in the game". That challenge only gets bigger when the batsmen you're bowling to are Russell and company.
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Shubman Gill, 2. Sunil Narine, 3 Nitish Rana, 4 Eoin Morgan, 5 Dinesh Karthik (capt, wk), 6 Andre Russell, 7 Rahul Tripathi/Rinku Singh, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Kamlesh Nagarkoti, 11 Prasidh Krishna
Mumbai Indians: 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Suryakumar Yadav, 4 Saurabh Tiwary, 5 Kieron Pollard, 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Krunal Pandya, 8 James Pattinson/Nathan Coulter-Nile, 9 Rahul Chahar, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
The Knight Riders' powerhouse trio of Morgan, Russell and Karthik have excellent records against Boult and Jasprit Bumrah. Karthik has taken 50 runs off 23 balls he has faced from Bumrah without being dismissed. Russell has scored 49 off 33, being dismissed once. Against Boult, the trio's combined record is 82 runs off 43 balls, with three dismissals. If these three batsmen are batting at the death, they could take a heavy toll on Mumbai's bowlers. A possibly counter-intuitive strategy for Mumbai could be to look at only keeping the runs down at the start without looking for wickets - thus delaying the entry of these three and not giving them time to get set at the death.
Narine's record as a batsman against Mumbai isn't too great. He has only 32 runs in eight innings, at less than a run-a-ball. The extra pace Mumbai have been able to call on during most seasons is perhaps part of the reason. The Knight Riders have indicated Narine will partner Shubman Gill at the top of the order for them, but in light of his record against Mumbai, perhaps Narine could bat lower down. They do have an option in Rahul Tripathi to partner Gill at the top.
Russell is destructive against any bowling, but relatively speaking, quick and short bowling has had him in more trouble than other types. In IPL 2019, his strike rate (155) and balls per boundary (4.0) against the short ball were the lowest he had for pace bowlers. He simply slaughtered length balls, back of length balls, fuller ones and full tosses. So bowling pace into his body might be the way to go, as soon as he comes in to bat.
Stats that matter
The Knight Riders and Mumbai have the most lopsided head-to-head record in IPL history. Mumbai have won 19 of their 25 matches, with the Knight Riders victorious only six times. Mumbai's win percentage of 76 is the best among any two teams in the IPL. However, the only time the two teams met in Abu Dhabi, the Knight Riders won, back in 2014. Mumbai, in fact, are on a six-match losing streak in the UAE, having lost five out of five in the country in 2014 to go with their opening game loss this year.
This will be Kieron Pollard's 150th match in the IPL.
ALSO SEE: KKR vs MI live score 23rd September 2020