Narine and company face the best spin hitters in IPL 2022

Big picture

Rajasthan Royals vs Kolkata Knight Riders. Two teams with six points each, two teams looking to bounce back from defeats in their most recent games, and two teams with certain broad similarities this season.

Take death bowling, for instance: both teams have struggled at this aspect of the game. They have averaged just one wicket per innings in this phase, and their economy rates are near-identical, with KKR (12.97) faring marginally worse than Royals (12.78).

On Monday, these attacks will come up against two of the most formidable death-overs ball-strikers in the competition: Shimron Hetmyer (262.00) has the best strike rate of any batter who has faced at least 20 balls in this phase this season, while Andre Russell (196.55) isn’t too far behind.

These two teams also, perhaps, boast the best spin attacks in the competition. Yuzvendra Chahal and R Ashwin have both enjoyed superb starts to the season. Sunil Narine has been at his miserly best – his economy rate of 5.00 is the best of any bowler to have sent down at least five overs this season. But Varun Chakravarthy has been quite a way off, meaning KKR’s middle-overs bowling has lacked its usual air of double-barreled suffocation.

KKR will hope Chakravarthy can return to something like his best form on Monday, given that Royals (average of 73.66, scoring rate of 9.20) have collectively been the best batting team against spin this season. Two of the biggest reasons for that are Sanju Samson, who has the best strike rate against spin (223.33) of any batter (min 20 balls) this season, and Jos Buttler, who has also gone at a healthy 152.00 against that style of bowling.

Opposition teams are always well-advised to dismiss these two as early as possible; for KKR, it might be doubly important to do so.

In the news

A niggle kept Trent Boult out of Royals’ last match against Gujarat Titans, and while there is no official word on the left-arm quick, he was seen bowling in a team challenge video – bowl the ball through a tire and hit the stumps – put up on the franchise’s official Twitter account. Whether that means he is fit to play against KKR is yet to be seen.

Sam Billings missed KKR’s last match against Sunrisers Hyderabad with an illness. He should have recovered by now, but the team management will face a difficult decision over whether to pick him or Aaron Finch, who has only played the one game so far for his new franchise.

Likely XIs

Rajasthan Royals: 1 Jos Buttler, 2 Devdutt Padikkal, 3 Sanju Samson (capt & wk), 4 Rassie van der Dussen, 5 Shimron Hetmyer, 6 Riyan Parag, 7 James Neesham/Trent Boult, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Prasidh Krishna, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Kuldeep Sen.

Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Venkatesh Iyer, 2 Aaron Finch, 3 Shreyas Iyer (capt), 4 Nitish Rana, 5 Sheldon Jackson (wk), 6 Andre Russell, 7 Sunil Narine, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Aman Khan, 10 Umesh Yadav, 11 Varun Chakravarthy.

Strategy punt

Ashwin loves bowling to left-hand batters, but this isn’t always the case when he comes up against KKR. Narine (SR 225.71) and Nitish Rana (163.57) are two of the three quickest-scoring left-hand batters against offspin in IPL history and both have superb records against Ashwin.

Narine has scored 60 runs off 22 balls (SR 272.72) against him while being dismissed once, while Rana has clattered 74 off 35 (211.42), without being dismissed.

Expect KKR to promote Narine if the stage of the game allows it. Royals could also combat these match-ups by giving Ashwin the new ball and getting one or two of his overs out of the way early. This will also allow Ashwin to attack Venkatesh Iyer, who has a far more typical left-hander’s record against him: 14 runs off 15 balls, no dismissals. Ashwin also has a terrific record against Aaron Finch (22 runs conceded in 27 balls, no wickets).

Stats that matter

The Brabourne Stadium has been the quickest-scoring venue of IPL 2022, with seven matches at the ground producing an overall run rate of 9.43.

Narine is KKR’s most-capped player. If he is picked on Sunday, he will be playing his 150th match for the team.

Chakravarthy boasts a significantly better IPL record in the UAE (average 20.89, economy rate 6.35) than he does in India (37.08, 8.24)

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