Qualifier 1: Sunrisers and KKR, who ignited batting in IPL 2024, meet again | Crickit

Qualifier 1: Sunrisers and KKR, who ignited batting in IPL 2024, meet again

May 20, 2024 09:09 PM IST

The top two teams in the league table began the trend of 200-plus totals being the new normal in the league this season.

In many ways, IPL 2024 will be remembered for how much the season changed the T20 format. It saw the role of batting anchors go out of fashion with every batter being sent in with the brief to go hard from ball one.

Shreyas Iyer's Kolkata Knight Riders will clash against Pat Cummins' Sunrisers Hyderabad in the qualifier 1 of IPL 2024. (IPL)
Shreyas Iyer's Kolkata Knight Riders will clash against Pat Cummins' Sunrisers Hyderabad in the qualifier 1 of IPL 2024. (IPL)

This ultra-aggressive brand of cricket was set in the third game of the tournament, between Kolkata Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad at Eden Gardens. It saw a no-holds-barred approach by both teams. KKR set a target of 208/7 and SRH blazed away in their chase before falling four runs short.

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Since that game, bowlers have come under such heavy fire that they have dreaded every game. Totals of 200 became a regular feature. Both KKR and SRH achieved 200-plus totals six times each in their 14 league matches.

SRH have bettered the record for IPL’s highest total twice this season. After breaking the record with 277/3 against Mumbai Indians, they smashed 287/3 against Royal Challengers Bengaluru. KKR notched up 272/7 against Delhi Capitals.

Thus, it is only fitting for the tournament that these two sides contest in Qualifier 1 after finishing No.1 and No.2 on the league table. The winner of Tuesday’s game at Ahmedabad’s Narendra Modi Stadium will qualify for the IPL final, in Chennai on May 26. The loser will get a second chance, against the winner of Eliminator 1, which will be played on Wednesday between the third and fourth placed sides.

Even accounting for how IPL’s Impact Player rule has helped batters to play without fear, it is clear that the approach in IPL has transformed with teams focussed on not taking the foot off the pedal throughout. At least, KKR and SRH play their game in this manner. They have the right men at their disposal to execute this. Their success has been built on maximising the powerplay overs. KKR did it through openers Sunil Narine (461 runs) and Phil Salt (435 runs) and SRH mainly through the explosive Travis Head (533) and Abhishek Sharma (467) at the top of the order.

SRH were lucky to directly qualify for the IPL final, pipping Rajasthan Royals (RR) to the second spot after the latter’s final league game against KKR at Guwahati was washed out on Sunday.

No Salt for KKR

Going into the high-stakes game, luck is again with Sunrisers. KKR’s dynamic opening pair of Narine and Salt has been broken with Salt, the team’s second-highest run-scorer and wicketkeeper, leaving to join England team ahead of the T20 World Cup. Another concern for the two-time champions is that they will be playing after a 10-day gap. The Shreyas Iyer-led side had won four games on the trot before rain washed away the last two league games. Rahmanullah Gurbaz is expected to fill in for Salt and it was crucial for KKR to test their new opening combination. It means KKR will go to Qualifier 1 without having assessed the impact of Salt’s absence; not an ideal situation for them.

SRH captain Pat Cummins knows that even without Salt, Narine remains the biggest threat for the 2016 champions, besides KKR’s other Caribbean superstar, Andre Russell. Narine is in the middle of his best season with the bat, having surpassed his 2018 tally of 357 runs in 16 innings by more than 100. From Russell, KKR will hope for a repeat of his all-round show (64* off 25 balls along with two wickets) that helped beat SRH in their opening clash.

Both the Caribbean all-rounders seem to have been positively influenced by former KKR captain Gautam Gambhir, who returned this season as mentor. They have played a key role in bowling as well, picking 15 wickets each.

KKR will derive confidence as the most consistent side this season – nine wins in 14 games, just three losses (2 no results), besides being the first team to qualify for playoffs.

Cummins on happy turf

Though not as consistent, Sunrisers would feel they have hit the stride after a huge win over Punjab Kings in their last game on Sunday. For Cummins, the Motera ground will bring back happy memories of the last final he played here, leading Australia to triumph over India in the ICC ODI World Cup final last November.

In their defeat to KKR at the start this season, Cummins had erred by not fielding his World Cup final star, Travis Head. Ever since SRH decided to pair left-handers Head and Abhishek Sharma at the top of the order, they have been formidable. Having different strengths, the two openers complement each other superbly. They never allow the pressure to build. Head usually sets the tone and Abhishek feeds off his partner’s early tempo, which allows him to target the right deliveries. The Punjab batter has taken his tally of sixes to 41 for this season, the most by an Indian batter in any IPL edition. He comes into the game in red-hot form, after back-to-back half-centuries, both while batting second, with 235-plus strike rate in both.

To add to their batting firepower, 20-year-old Nitish Kumar Reddy has been SRH’s find of the season. The all-rounder has impressed with his clean-hitting which has taken the pressure off Heinrich Klaasen in the middle-order. Their main test will come against KKR’s spin pair Varun Chakravarthy (18 wickets, ER 8.34) and Sunil Narine (15 wickets, ER 6.63).

SRH will bank on the seasoned Bhuvneswhar Kumar, Cummins and T Natarajan to put the brakes on Narine and Co.

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