The K-epilogue to Lucknow Super Giants’ defensive hegemony

The giant wave of Korean pop culture, also known as Hallyu, has washed over numerous countries around the globe, with India in particular lapping up the immersive flicks. Netflix saw a staggering 370 per cent growth in K-drama viewership among Indian audiences in 2020. From emotionally invested discussions on social media to fan clubs organizing grand events, Korean cinema has found a dedicated consumer base in India, thanks to the variety of genres to satisfy any palate.

In keeping with the trend, K was the letter on everyone’s lips in the first half of Lucknow Super Giants’ innings. While Khaleel Ahmed pocketed the southpaws at the top of the order, Kuldeep Yadav returned from a groin injury to plug the middle-phase hole for Delhi Capitals. The dovetailing of the Ks reduced the hosts to 77/5, a swamp so bushy that even the best eighth wicket partnership in IPL history could not kayak them out to a winning total.

160 had proved to be the magical number at the Ekana Stadium, with LSG boasting of an impeccable 13-0 defending record when they put as many on the board. Take a low and slow surface, throw the longest straight boundaries in India into the mix, and it becomes apparent why LSG and DC went 35 and 30 balls without a four or a six respectively. DC came into the clash with just one win out of five games and a collective batting average of 23.35 – the lowest among all teams this season – so 167, of course, had LSG fancying their chances. Debutant Jake Fraser-McGurk’s six-hitting pedigree and a captain’s knock from Rishabh Pant, however, blotted the home team’s painstakingly preserved clean sheet.

‘’If I want to be harsh, I think we were 15-20 runs short, we got off to a good start, we could have capitalised and got 180,’’ said KL Rahul, who struck at above 170 within the first six overs in an IPL innings for the first time since 2021. At the other end, Quinton de Kock gathered his fluency with two drives over cover after Khaleel found both the edges with the brand new ball. Rahul being the classy shotmaker he is, did one better, dispatching Khaleel for a flat six in that region. His refreshing acceleration upfront saw LSG acquire 28 runs for no loss by the middle of the third over as the left-right combo seemed keen to ace the PowerPlay, the easiest batting phase on sluggish decks.

Thwarting the juggernaut that de Kock turns into once he gets on a roll is hard. Ask Royal Challengers Bangalore. He was off and running with three fours in the first over from Reece Topley and flicked Mohammed Siraj for consecutive sixes before Glenn Maxwell gave him a life on 32. Kicking on to blast 81, de Kock had put LSG into the ascendancy by the time the opposition figured out the right lengths to hit, in skipper Rahul’s own words. Khaleel’s blow was hence as timely as it was pivotal. He lasered a full ball on leg, managing to sneak past the archetypal swing across the line to catch the dangerman plumb.

Having lost his wicket to Trent Boult and Sam Curran hitherto in IPL 2024, Devdutt Padikkal did his match-up versus left-arm pace no good as Khaleel duly pinned the youngster on the backfoot to consign him to fifth straight single-digit score. DC could have brought LSG to an acute halt had Khaleel accepted the simple return catch Marcus Stoinis proffered on his first ball. Nonetheless, the other K in the visiting camp, for whom it was ‘’difficult to see the team struggling in the middle overs’’ in his absence, took over the dismantling duties.

Kuldeep’s first strike of the night had shades of Chris Woakes’ dismissal from the 2023 World Cup opener. Born and brought up on true tracks which allow for driving on the up, foreign batters are more susceptible to deception in flight than their Indian counterparts, the IPL exposure notwithstanding. They end up throwing their hard hands at balls which are not full enough to be driven, owing to their muscle memory and the ability of subcontinental spinners to generate dip. The way Marcus Stoinis perished was a microcosm of this long-standing behaviourial trend, with the leading edge ballooning to point; ditto in Woakes’ case.

As far as batting against spin is concerned, another malaise that is sweeping top-flight cricket is a general incompetence in reading wrist-spinners. ‘’Any batter waiting to pick the delivery off the pitch is depriving himself of scoring opportunities and putting his wicket in serious jeopardy,’’ Gregg Chappel warns. Picking Kuldeep out of the hand was imperative because ever since he has straightened his run-up and increased his bowling pace by putting more body into his approach to the crease, his trajectory is flatter and the turn fizzier, devoiding batters of that extra split second – granted by slow turn earlier – to react to the skullduggery of his high-revving deliveries upon pitching.

Nicholas Pooran failed to tick the basics. The googly, sent down to the perfect spot which makes the batter indecisive about whether to go forward or back, breached the defences, the gap between his bat and pad as wide as a saucer. “The way Kuldeep bowled today and delivered a dream ball to Nicholas Pooran…he is a match-winning batter and getting him out was crucial to restrict them to 167. Yes, Ayush Badoni scored a 31-ball fifty but that impact from 160 to 190, that margin was reduced thanks to Kuldeep and we controlled the game,’’ Pravin Amre, DC assistant coach, analysed.

Rahul is a binding glue tailor made for such situations, having the power game to eventually compensate for slowing down the tempo of the game when required. His departure in a bid to square cut tilted the scales completely in DC’s favour, with the successful employment of short balls to impact substitute Deepak Hooda and Krunal Pandya further jazzing up their advantage.

The latter couldn’t contribute with the ball either, giving away five wides at the beginning of his spell. Itching to make up for his mid-inning stagnation, Fraser-McGurk launched Krunal for three consecutive sixes as he leaked 45 in his 3 overs. How Lucknow Super Giants too would have wished for some K-magic from their ranks!