IPL 2019: Rajasthan Royals braces up for Russell raid as Knight Riders comes calling

Andre Russell’s matchless hitting in the season so far gives Kolkata Knight Riders the edge for its contest against Rajasthan Royals at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium on Sunday.

Andre Russell is mobbed by his team team-mates after he pulled off a heist against Royal Challengers Bangalore on Friday.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Shortly after Rajasthan Royals started practising on Friday evening, the dreaded dust storm entered the nets at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium. Everything became a blur for a while. Such storms are not uncommon here at this time of the year and can be deadly, literally. Come Sunday, Ajinkya Rahane’s men will have an even deadlier storm to worry about in Andre Russell, who has truly taken this IPL by storm by batting like a hurricane.

Russell’s matchless hitting gives Kolkata Knight Riders a cutting edge. If Dinesh Karthik’s men have won three of their four matches — and took the other to the Super Over — they have the Jamaican all-rounder to thank for it. In four innings, Russell has smashed 207 runs at a strike rate of 268.83 and an average of 103.5. In the 77 balls he has faced, he has hit 22 sixes and 12 fours. That means only 27 of his runs have been scored via actual running.

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Knight Riders’s batting is not merely about Russell, however. Nitish Rana has been in fine form, and there are dependable men like Karthik, Robin Uthappa and Shubman Gill to come in after Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine, the openers.

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Played: 19 RR 9; KKR 9; NR: 1.

The bowling hasn’t isn’t as reassuring as its batting. Wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla are the only Knight Riders bowlers to boast an economy rate of less than nine.

Formidable attack

The host team’s bowling looks sharper. Pacers Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes, and spinners Shreyas Gopal and K. Gowtham, form a formidable attack.

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Gopal was brilliant in the last match. It was the leg-spinner’s three prized wickets — Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Shimron Hetmyer — that led Royals to its first win of the season, against Royal Challengers Bangalore.

The batting will be further strengthened by the return of Sanju Samson. Samson, who scored the first hundred of the season, had to sit out the last game because of a niggle. The form of Jos Buttler, Ajinkya Rahane, Steve Smith and Rahul Tripathi also inspires confidence.