Rahul Tripathi of Kolkata Knight Riders hits a boundary.
Rahul Tripathi of the Kolkata Knight Riders hooks against the Chennai Super Kings during the IPL 2020 match in Abu Dhabi on October 7, 2020. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

Dinesh Karthik seldom gets credit for his tactical acumen. But then tactics are part of a team strategy that’s drawn up well ahead of a match. Yet, it’s the captain who makes the strategy work. So the Kolkata Knight Riders’ skipper deserves credit for sticking to the plan. A plan that brought down the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL 2020 match in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

So what’s remarkable about the plan? It was a departure from their approach so far. The Kolkata brains trust seems to have focused on what’s worked for them and rejigged the strategy. Rahul Tripathi’s good form in the previous match warranted a return to his regular opening slot. A misfiring Sunil Narine made way for that. And Narine didn’t open the bowling either, and was employed in the second half of the innings.

All the moves worked very well. When a plan works well, it becomes a stroke of genius. Even if it’s born out of a team strategy, Karthik can take a bow.

The wicket may have been slow, but judicious stroke-making would fetch runs as Tripathi (81 off 51 balls) and Chennai’s Shane Watson (50 off 40) showed. In fact, the batting of both teams followed an identical pattern: a run glut in the powerplay, and plenty of runs and enough wickets in hand at the halfway stage to launch an assault in the slog overs. Strangely, both sides lost their way in the face of some good bowling.

Kolkata, who were 98/3 when Narine’s quickfire innings ended after the 10th over, failed to build on it and ended up with 167, which is isn’t a formidable total. Chennai, despite the early loss of in-form Faf du Plessis, were in control at 99/1 in the 13th over. But the departure Ambati Rayudu (30 of 27) followed by Watson in the next over brought two new batsmen at the crease.

A brisk start and a swift collapse

It’s never easy for two new batsmen to push thee scoring and Kolkata bowlers didn’t allow any liberties. Here’s where the move to keep Narine for the second half of the innings struck gold. And Andre Russell at the death is a difficult proposition, always.

So why should Karthik get the credit? He rallied the team very well, never allowing the rivals any respite. The move to keep Pat Cummins and Shivam Mavi for the first six overs is laudable even if it didn’t bring early wickets. Cummins was brought back for last another bid to separate Watson and Rayudu. It didn’t work either, but it was positive thinking.

The rest of the plan worked well.

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It was Chennai’s match to lose, and they let it slip. It showed that they are fallible and are capable of elementary mistakes.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni must be ruing his rotten luck. Another narrow loss. A 10-run margin amounts to two shots. But that’s the nature of close finishes in T20 cricket. Chennai could use the Kolkata playbook, and ring in some tactical changes. But Dhoni and Chennai are the patient sort.

The next four matches could be crucial. When the race for playoff slots heats up, there won’t be room for mistakes. Dhoni is fully aware of that, having steered Chennai to ten playoffs. He wouldn’t risk missing it. Having lost four of the six matches, we may see some changes in approach.