Narine Ban Skews Title Fight

It's easy to overstate the influence of one player in a team sport, but the loss of just one player might mean Kolkata Knight Riders go into the Champions League T20 final as underdogs despite having won their last 14 matches. Unless they choose to play him as a specialist batsman, Sunil Narine will play no part in the final. Chennai Super Kings, against whose power-packed batting lineup he has an economy rate of 5.90 in eight matches, must have rejoiced when they heard news of his bowling ban during their semi-final game.

The last time Super Kings faced him, in the opening game of the tournament's group stage, they scored nine runs off Narine's four overs, and scored 148 off the 16 overs bowled by Knight Riders' other bowlers. In the end, Knight Riders won despite slipping to 51 for 5 at the start of their chase.

Narine is the highest wicket-taker in this tournament, has the best economy rate of anyone who has bowled a significant number of overs, and is absolutely central to Knight Riders' bowling plans. Out of the 20 overs he has bowled in the CLT20, only four have come outside the first six or the last five of an innings. Now, in their most important game of the tournament, Knight Riders will have to rejig their entire bowling plan and figure out which of their bowlers will deliver the most critical overs.

This isn't to say Knight Riders are a one-man team. As shown by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor, in his analysis of their winning streak, the improved performance of their batsmen has been a vital factor in their success. The rest of their spin attack, moreover, has been excellent. But can they stand up to Super Kings' fearsome phalanx of batsmen without their talisman bowling the bulk of the pressure overs?

Since smashing a 43-ball 90 against Dolphins, Suresh Raina has twice been out cheaply in frustrating ways - run-out against Perth Scorchers, caught at a specifically stationed short midwicket against Kings XI Punjab. Raina is striking the ball as cleanly as ever, and Knight Riders might need to get him out early to keep Super Kings in check.

Jacques Kallis scored a match-winning half-century the last time he faced Super Kings in a final, and he seems to be in good touch with the bat, having scored an unbeaten 40-ball 54 in the semi-final against Hobart Hurricanes. Kallis has only had to bowl four overs in three matches so far in this tournament, but he might be required to fill in with the ball in the final, with Narine not around.

The boundaries at the Chinnaswamy Stadium are considerably shorter than those in Hyderabad, where they played their semi-final, and this might cause Super Kings to consider selecting an extra seamer in place of Pawan Negi, the third spinner.

Chennai Super Kings 1 Dwayne Smith, 2 Brendon McCullum, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Faf du Plessis, 5 Dwayne Bravo, 6 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Ishwar Pandey/Pawan Negi, 10 Mohit Sharma, 11 Ashish Nehra

Knight Riders have used all four of their spinners in their recent games, and don't have anyone else in the squad as a direct replacement for Narine. It looks like they will have to go with an extra seam option, and that probably means Pat Cummins will return to their line-up.

Kolkata Knight Riders 1 Robin Uthappa (wk), 2 Gautam Gambhir (capt), 3 Jacques Kallis, 4 Manish Pandey, 5 Yusuf Pathan, 6 Ryan ten Doeschate, 7 Suryakumar Yadav, 8 Andre Russell, 9 Piyush Chawla, 10 Pat Cummins, 11 Kuldeep Yadav

(Cricinfo)



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