With Middle-over Aggression, KKR Master Sharjah Tricks

Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - With middle-over aggression, KKR master Sharjah tricks. Gill top scored for KKR with 56.

With Middle-over Aggression, KKR Master Sharjah TricksGill top scored for KKR with 56.

Previewing the game for Kolkata Knight Riders, Brendon McCullum had his own reasons to believe why six-hitting could be the way to go at the smallest venue in the UAE. “You can't be too scripted about how you are gonna play on a wicket like that.. (but) the certainty is that the outfield is quite slow in Sharjah, so could well be more of a six-hitting ground. We'll see,” the head coach told KKR's YouTube channel, breaking into a subtle smile by the end of it.

Interestingly, McCullum's comments came in the backdrop of Rajasthan Royals' achingly slow 90 for 9 in Sharjah the other night, when the popular advice seemed to be accumulation of runs straight down the ground. It very well could have been the same tonight, for the pitch was again low, slow and two-paced. At the toss, Sanju Samson was more than candid about his bowling plans on a similar surface — “focus more on stump-to-stump line and good lengths” — knowing that the full swinging lengths that his bowlers dispensed against Mumbai Indians weren't going to cut the mustard.

And RR mostly bowled to plan, hitting the hard lengths with 80 percent of their deliveries, clouding the beehive at the top of the stumps and sticking to varying the pace in that 90-130 kph bracket. But they came up against a motivated and instinctive batting line-up on Thursday (October 7) that snuggled around Shubman Gill and pushed forward through cameos. All that translated into the highest total in Sharjah this year and the first win for KKR batting first in the UAE this season.

The first big hit of the innings – a straight six by Gill that thudded into the sightscreen – was the bellwether for how KKR would attack on this pitch. The hard lengths between 6-8 metres that RR bowled allowed the batsmen to preempt and pick their spots straight down the ground, but the freedom to do that frequently came from a solid opening stand. In fact, that six by Gill remained the only maximum for the first nine overs. Samson was now up to the stumps, trying to cut down on batsmen charging down the ground, so the KKR batsmen responded by picking runs through the legside. It helped that the likes of Chetan Sakariya were trying to bowl straight.

KKR ended up scoring 64 percent of their runs through the legside, and 60 percent of their boundary runs straight down the ground, the numbers highlighting their flexible plans in tough conditions. The mystery wasn't in what the bowlers were going to bowl in Sharjah; MI had shown it too well the other night. Instead, the mystery was in how to score runs on that pitch, because it was still a surface on which a short ball from Mustafizur Rahman bounced up to Gill's knees. That it still went for a boundary, with Gill crouching his back leg and hacking it away, told the story.

That boundary from Gill came in the middle of a whirlwind four overs for KKR, when they seemed to be making a conscious move from accumulation to plunder. That phase of play, between overs 10-13 and perhaps more important than the steady 79-run opening stand, witnessed four of KKR's seven 6s and a total of 51 runs. It didn't matter that Venkatesh Iyer and Nitish Rana were dismissed trying to go for the big hits, one bowled off a reverse-sweep and one caught in the deep, but all KKR seemed to want at that point in time was momentum against the old ball.

And so Iyer swung through Jaydev Unadkat's cutters, Gill through Rahul Tewatia's legbreak and Nitish Rana through Glenn Phillips' offcutter, each getting the better of their match-ups to dispatch four maximums straight down the ground. It more than compensated for what was in front of KKR (read Eoin Morgan's poor form) and what wasn't (read Andre Russell). Only 26 runs came in the last 3 overs, nine of those in extras, and while a better bowling attack would have limited those runs, the damage had already been done earlier in the innings.

No wonder Morgan thought that his batters “timed the assault” very well. McCullum may have anticipated the sixes in Sharjah but the timing would have left him stumped too.

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