With Delhi cruising to a top-two spot, Paul Krishnamurty says they could lack the motivation of KKR, who urgently need to win this and are improving rapidly...
"Scoring at Sharjah tends to be either boundaries or singles. If the ball isn't coming on, very low scores are on the cards."
Kolkata Knight Riders v Delhi Capitals
Tuesday, 11:00 BST
Live on Sky Sports Cricket
When the IPL season resumed, it wasn't obvious that we would see an exciting finale to the points table. Four teams appeared to have qualification sewn up. Happily, it hasn't turned out that way at all.
Logjam for fourth place points towards exciting finish
The top-two are all but assured of the play-offs and indeed the top-two spot that offers a massive advantage under this format. Delhi and Chennai are now free, and liable to rest players, experiment. Five teams, meanwhile, are locked in an exciting race for the other two places.
RCB are in a strong position, with 12 points and following today's defeat for Rajasthan Royals, Kolkata are one of four sides on eight points, realistically pursuing the fourth play-off slot.
All have four matches remaining. Three wins from four looks a minimum and then a good net run-rate. The good news for KKR is that they are well ahead of the rest of the chasing pack on that score.
KKR are on the up
They have transformed since the break - trouncing RCB and Mumbai, then losing on the final ball to Chennai on Sunday. Venkatesth Iyer has come in and done a good job. At last, Lockie Ferguson is in the side, providing that urgently needed gun bowler. Spinner Varun Chakravarthy is improving fast, and becoming a key player in these latter stages on slow, used pitches.
Delhi meanwhile have carried on in dominant fashion, thrashing Sunrisers and Rajasthan. As Cricket...Only Bettor listeners will know, you won't find me picking holes in their title credentials.
Could Delhi rest players or experiment?
Nevertheless, one has to think Delhi will start resting players. They have a huge squad - consider these players who have played four games or less. Sam Billings. Amit Mishra. Ajinkya Rahane. Ishant Sharma. Tom Curran. So too Shreyas Iyer and Anrich Nortje, although they'd likely get in any first XI. That competition for places should keep them motivated, but qualified teams are prone to taking their foot off the gas.
We return to Sharjah, where hopes of enormous scores as seen last year were dashed in two matches last week. The pitch is evidently much slower, producing first innings totals of 156 and 125. The latter was enough to win. 13 and seven sixes were hit. These numbers compare to seven 200-plus totals to open last season, with the first three matches each producing at least 28 maximums.
Slow Sharjah pitch usually means low totals
The issue here is the small ground. Scoring at Sharjah tends to be either boundaries or singles. If the ball isn't coming on, very low scores are on the cards. Unless this pitch is fundamentally different, expect more of the same.
It is hard to predict precisely where the 1st Innings Runs line will open, but I'm hopeful of being able to lay 160 plus at 1.51/2 and 150 plus at 1.251/4. If not available pre-match, my advice is to leave lay orders in once the action starts.
Motivation factor makes the outsiders the bet
All these dynamics lead me to think the time may have come to oppose Delhi at 1.84/5. I don't think there's much of a toss bias, but it can only help and largely speaking you won't make money in franchise T20 cricket taking such odds before the toss. Especially against a side who are arguably better motivated.
Furthermore, if boundaries are the key, there's much to be said for this KKR middle-order including Eoin Morgan, Andre Russell, Sunil Narine and Dinesh Karthik.
As usual, Betfair Sportsbook have enhanced two opening batsmen in the respective Top Team Runscorer markets. Shikhar Dhawan is at 13/5 for Delhi, Shubman Gill at 4/1 for KKR. Neither especially appeals.
If looking for value options, I'd say 25/1 about Narine is interesting as he could always be promoted. For Delhi, perhaps Lalith Yadav at 19/1? Axar Patel is the type of finisher to land at 40/1 on occasion too. None are strong enough picks to make the staking plan, though.
Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty
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