Have KKR found the perfect recipe to thwart this Sunrisers attack?
Andre Russell, and towards the end, Shubman Gill, smashed 53 runs off the last three overs to pull off an IPL-record heist: no chasing side has made more in the tournament's history. Rashid Khan had put in another excellent shift, and bowled out by the 16th over, with Knight Riders still requiring 59 off 24 balls. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Sidharth Kaul had to bowl three of the remaining four overs, an equation they would have expected to defend given their past record. Sunrisers had only ever lost two IPL games after putting up 180-plus on the board, but as we saw towards the closing stages of IPL 2018, their famed bowling unit is showing signs of cracking at the death.
Bhuvneshwar's record in this phase hasn't been as stunning in recent times as it has been in the past - he's gone at 10.87 an over since the start of last season, compared to 8.95 in the two preceding seasons, at double the bowling average. Kaul has fluffed up his lengths rather too often, and against a rampaging Russell, did so once again. A perfect illustration of their historic reputation is visible in how ESPNcricinfo's Forecaster reacted to the evening's events: Knight Riders were never once favourites till the 19th over, when Russell went berserk against Bhuvneshwar, whose reputation put the bowling side in the driver's seat until that point. By the end of that 19-run assault, Knight Riders had gone from 6% underdogs to 51% favourites.
On current and recent form, perhaps Sunrisers will be forced to hold Rashid back for the endgame as the tournament goes on, because as things stand, the good old formula isn't quite working out well.
Kuldeep and Narine don't bowl out, and it's (only partly) Warner's doing
Kuldeep Yadav and Sunil Narine have been Knight Riders' strike-forces of choice for a long time now, and it's rare that neither bowls out his quota of four overs. Narine was presumably laid low by a finger injury, which could have prevented him from opening the innings later on, but David Warner hadn't exactly rocketed off the blocks when the Trinidadian came on to bowl inside the Powerplay.
One mistake from Narine was all it took to rev him up - a half-pull down leg was followed by an authoritative pull in front of square, and he was up and running. Kuldeep was up next, and Warner wasted no time in dictating terms: he switched his grip, became a right-hander for practical purposes, and switch-hit him for four. Early blows delivered, he went on to smack Kuldeep against the turn for six en route to a near-perfect comeback to the IPL stage. By the end of his stay, he had cracked 85 off 53, taken on Knight Riders' spinners, and ensured neither of them - nor, for that matter, Piyush Chawla - bowled out.
Did Sunrisers slow down after a dream opening stand?
Sunrisers' innings had two distinct, brisk scoring periods: Warner and Jonny Bairstow's opening stand of 118 at more than 9 an over, and Manish Pandey and Vijay Shankar's 29 off the last 15 balls. Vijay's big-hitting capabilities have transformed since the last time he played for Sunrisers, but he took a while to find his range in their opening game. Between Bairstow and Warner's wickets, Sunrisers made just 34 off 28 balls, a lull which could well have cost them the game in the end. Warner was the set (and tiring) batsman, and it was up to Vijay to put his skates on, having been promoted to No.3 ahead of Manish Pandey. Instead, he got to 14 off 9 balls in this phase, a solitary six punctuating a stream of dots and ones. It is a phase that so obviously gets singled out in retrospect, but up against a side like Knight Riders with a slew of six-hitters coming one after another, it stands out as a missed opportunity that could have cost them the game.
Whither, Dinesh Karthik the finisher
Karthik built a reputation as a perfect T20 finisher last season - he would walk in late in the innings with a tricky equation at hand, and remain unbeaten by the end of it, having steered KKR to victory. In the opening game of the season, with 87 needed off 44, he walked in at No.4. He ended up making 2 off 4 balls, falling to a slower one from Sandeep Sharma. It could well be that Karthik walked in to hold Russell back for the death, and see out Rashid Khan, but with barely a month to go for the World Cup squad announcement, that one easy question comes to mind: is he auditioning to be a No.4 candidate for the national side? Could he not have let Shubhman Gill do that job? The coming days will tell whether it's a one-off move, or a permanent shift up the order.