Morgan chuffed with Southee’s seamless impact

Tim Southee’s arrivalin the UAE was incidental. Kolkata Knight Riders’ 15-crore man Pat Cummins opting out of travelling for IPL’s resumption meant KKR were left to find a replacement. They turned to the New Zealand pacer, who last featured in the IPL in 2019, where he played just three games and exited with an economy rate of 13.11. He began on the bench as KKR preferred to go with his compatriot Lockie Ferguson, and looked set to remain there as the latter made an impact right away.

KKR found a new lease of life since the restart in their sprint towards a playoffs finish, only to be thrown off-guard by an injury to Andre Russell in the fixture against CSK. More than anything, it messed with KKR’s balance, and meant Morgan had to summon from his bench the players who could chip in with both bat and ball to compensate for the West Indian’s absence.

In came Southee, making an alright beginning to his life in the tournament that hasn’t previously been kind on him. He played a supporting role in the crucial win over 2020 finalists with figures of 1 for 29, but the spotlight soon got brighter on him as Lockie Ferguson too joined the injury list. It meant further depletion of balance and the risk of being lop-sided right when the race for the playoffs.

KKR went into Sunday’s fixture as the best of the chasing pack – courtesy their superior NRR – and the knowledge that beating SRH – the most underwhelming side this season – would take them another step closer to making that fourth spot their own. It was one of those fixtures that could’ve gone very wrong for KKR considering the pressure they played under, and the complete contrast with which SRH operated.

Southee went a long way in easing such nerves in the very first over, after Kane Williamson decided to bat on a sluggish Dubai pitch. An inswinger flummoxed Wriddhiman Saha, who was perhaps shaping up for Southee to take the ball away like he usually does at the start. KKR unleashed their spin trio of Shakib Al Hasan, Varun CV and Sunil Narine to maintain control through the middle and even succeeded with wickets, but on a pitch like that, even a small contribution towards the end threatened to turn the tables.

Abdul Samad’s was starting to look like one such contribution as he patiently got used to the surface and took on Varun in the 17th over to set SRH up for a late flourish. Morgan turned to Southee, who returned and nipped that in the bud straightaway. Southee took the pace off against a batsman who had a glint in his eye and the long on fence in his sights, only to mistime and hit it straight to the fielder there. That dimmed SRH’s innings further, and the eventual narrow margin of KKR’s victory enhanced Southee’s effectiveness on the night.

“Tim’s obviously had a huge impact in the side,” Morgan said in the press conference after his team’s win over SRH. “When you miss two or three big gun players – we miss Pat, we miss Lockie, and obviously Dre has been missing as well. His contribution with the ball in this phase has been brilliant. It’s one thing contributing throughout a campaign, but I think, when you look at actually when you need players to stand up, senior players to be able to do that… Tim has done that brilliantly.”

“He’s come in seamlessly, showing a lot of experience. He’s done it for a very long time for the Blackcaps. He’s obviously one of their top-class bowlers in all formats of the game so it is great to see that in a KKR shirt,” he added.

While a depleted KKR marched on despite key injuries, the medical staff spent day and night trying to get Russell and Ferguson back up to speed. The New Zealander was already at the venue on Sunday, doing a few run-throughs while Russell’s rehabilitation continued.

Southee, with two bright performances in three outings, has done enough to give them a little more time for recovery, while the team gears up for one last must-win hurdle to surpass on October 7 against Rajasthan Royals.

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