Following a hat-trick of victories, Shahrukh Khan’s Kolkata Knight Riders would look to continue their winning streak when they face struggling Gujarat Lions on Friday, in a battle between the top and bottom-placed teams of the ongoing IPL.
With two home and two away wins from five matches, in- form KKR are on a roll, quite contrast to the campaign of Gujarat who finished the league stages on top last season but are yet to find their rhythm this year with just one victory out of five.
There has been no individual hero for KKR in their journey so far and every player is backing each other. That has not only helped them overcome hurdles but played a key role in their smooth campaign.
But for the Suresh Raina-led Gujarat Lions, nothing is going right, be it their batting or bowling, especially the spin department which has let-down the team badly. Struggling to find a set opening pair in the absence of an injured Chris Lynn, KKR for once had a disastrous start in their chase of 170 in Delhi as they were reduced to 21 for three inside three overs.
Any other team would have succumbed under pressure but not KKR, who put up a 110-run fourth wicket stand between Manish Pandey (69 not out from 47 balls) and Yusuf Pathan (59 from 36 balls) to set up the four-wicket win.
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Pandey has been in the form of his life as he struck a second unbeaten half-century of the season to seal the chase, finishing off the game with a flat six. After spending a three-day welcome break, KKR now would be back to relish Eden's home comfort in two successive matches in three days time, including a marquee Sunday showdown against the Virat Kohli-led star-studded Royal Challengers Bangalore.
With the team gelling well and enjoying a winning momentum, there may not be any need to tinker KKR's line-up but in hindsight it is perplexing to see star Bangladeshi all-rounder Shakib-Al-Hasan warming the bench.
Andre Russell's replacement Colin de Grandhomme has failed to make much impact from three games and Shakib may give a better overseas option to skipper Gautam Gambhir. Their smooth campaign so far, notwithstanding, KKR would be worried about the form of Suryakumar Yadav, who has failed to deliver with the bat at the crucial number six position.
For the Lions to roar, their top-heavy batting order must first win in unison against a consistent KKR bowling attack. Spin trio of Sunil Narine, Kuldeep Yadav and Yusuf Pathan conceded a combined 43 runs from nine overs and took key wickets of David Warner, Shikhar Dhawan and Deepak Hooda to choke Surisers Hyderabad to a 17-run defeat in their last match here.
Finding a winning combination would be the priority for Raina as overseas players, especially Dwyane Smith and Aaron Finch has disappointed the team so far. Jason Roy and James Faulkner may give Raina a better option while it won't be a bad idea to promote the talented Jharkhand opener Ishan Kishan up the order.
Another big setback for the Lions has been the hamstring injury to their star West Indies all-rounder Dwayne Bravo, who returned with 17 wickets from 15 matches last season.
The team also desperately looked up to Ravindra Jadeja's return but the star all-rounder looked jaded and out of sorts after returning to action following the rest advised by BCCI's medical team after the long home Test series.
Jadeja leaked the most runs (4-0-57-0) as RCB posted a huge 213/2 in their 21-run win. While chasing, Jadeja consumed 22 deliveries for his 23 runs, even as the next batman, Ishan, looked promising in his fiery 39 off 16 balls.
Gujarat Lions, however, can take positives from Kerala uncapped pacer Basil Thampi's promising bowling, who got his maiden IPL victim in the prized wicket of Chris Gayle. KKR lost to Gujarat Lions on both occasions last season but this year a Twenty20 record 184-run undefeated opening stand between Lynn and Gambhir had handed the Kolkata outfit a comprehensive 10-wicket win in the first leg.
Kolkata Knight Riders:
Gautam Gambhir (Capt.), Darren Bravo, Trent Boult, Piyush Chawla, Nathan Coulter Nile, Colin De Grandhomme, Rishi Dhawan, Sayan Ghosh, Shaikb-Al-Hasan, Sheldon Jackson, Ishank Jaggi, Kuldeep Yadav, Chris Woakes, Chris Lynn, Sunil Narine, Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan, Ankit Rajpoot, Suryakumar Yadav, Robin Uthappa and Umesh Yadav.
Suresh Raina (Capt.), Akshadeep Nath, Shubham Agarwal, Basil Thampi, Dwayne Bravo, Chirag Suri, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Manpreet Gony, Ishan Kishan, Ravindra Jadeja, Shadab Jakati, Dinesh Kartik, Dhaval Kulkarni, Shivil Kaushik, Praveen Kumar, Brendon McCullum, Munaf Patel, Pratham Singh, Jason Roy, Pradeep Sangwan, Jaydev Shah, Shelly Shaurya, Nathu Singh, Dwayne Smith, Tejas Baroka and Andrew Tye.