Having notched up their first victory against Pune Supergiants, an upbeat Kings XI Punjab face the all-round might of two-time champions Kolkata Knight Riders in an Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament encounter in Mohali on Tuesday.
While KKR have four points from three games with two wins under their belt, Kings XI opened their account with a six-wicket win against Pune.
On paper, KKR are overwhelming favourites against Punjab with a more balanced outfit but reputations count for little in the shortest format as most of the contests are won on the day.
Expect an interesting battle between KKR’s much vaunted batting line-up against KXIP’s bowling which has looked disciplined during their last match against Pune on a two-paced wicket.
So there could be some intriguing smaller battle within the battles. How Gambhir tackles Mohit Sharma’s slower deliveries or how Sandeep Sharma can stop Andre Russell from hitting those towering sixes.
It will also be a challenge for KXIP spinners like Axar Patel as KKR is one side which has quality batsmen against slow bowlers.
For Knight Riders, the best part about their journey since Gambhir taking over in 2011 is the amount of consistency that they have shown over the years.
Not only have they won the title twice in 2012 and 2014 but more importantly have stuck with their core group of players in thick and thin during these years.
Skipper Gambhir, opener Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Suryakumar Yadav, Andre Russell and Sunil Narine have all settled down in their respective roles in the past few years giving them a dangerous look despite the absence of a huge star in the ranks of a Kohli, Dhoni or AB de Villiers.
They have been more or less clinical in their two wins against Daredevils at home and Sunrisers in an away game. The loss against Mumbai Indians could be attributed more to Rohit Sharma’s individual brilliance backed up nicely by Jos Buttler’s pyrotechnics.
The best part about KKR’s campaign so far has been Gambhir’s form as he is on top of the run-getters’ table with 192 runs at a healthy strike-rate of 125.49. He has been playing the role of sheet anchor to perfection as has forged a good opening partnership with Robin Uthappa.
Uthappa’s 81 runs in three matches may not look big in terms of volume but in both the wins, his contributions have been 35 and 38.
While it may not actually be a cause of worry, the nine-wicket win against Daredevils and eight-wicket win against Sunrisers but KKR’s middle-order has not been put to test during the three matches that they have played.
However with a three-pronged spin attack of Narine, Piyush Chawla and Shakib Al Hasan, KKR can put the KXIP batting to test which has not been very consistent in their three matches so far.
Apart from these three, KKR also have veteran chinaman bowler Brad Hogg, who has also done well in the two matches that he has played.
The pace duties are expected to be shared between Morne Morkel, Umesh Yadav and Russell.
In KXIP team, Manan Vohra, who has scored 38, 32 and 51 in the three matches, the others have not lived upto the expectations. Glenn Maxwell’s 14-ball-32 did help in their win against Pune Supergiants but Maxwell has had a struggle on Indian pitches since the start of the World T20.
The big shots have not come off as frequently as he would have expected. The worrying factor for KXIP is Maxwell’s 34 runs in 3 matches and skipper David Miller’s 31 in 3 games.
That has put the team under lot of pressure with another seasoned campaigner Shaun Marsh scoring only 17 in 2 games.
But in the three games, the shining light for KXIP has been their two pacers Sandeep Sharma (4 wickets) and Mohit Sharma (3 wickets), especially Mohit, who is also coming back from an injury. They have had decent economy rates of 5.55 and 6.57 respectively in the three matches so far.
He has shown the ability to mix and match his deliveries, varying the pace effectively during death overs. Sandeep has also bowled in good areas.
The problem area for KXIP in their bowling has been spinners Axar Patel and Pardeep Sahu, both of whom have leaked runs in the three matches that they have played. KXIP will certainly look at trying out someone in place of Sahu — may be mystery spinner KC Cariappa or India discard all-rounder Gurkeerat Singh Mann.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautham Gambhir (capt), Piyush Chawla, John Hastings, Brad Hogg, Jason Holder, Sheldon Jackson, Kuldeep Yadav, Chris Lynn, Manan Sharma, Morne Morkel, Colin Munro, Sunil Narine, Manish Pandey, Yusaf Pathan, Ankit Rajput, Andre Russell, Rajgopal Satish, Shakib Al Hasan, Jaydev Unadkat, Robin Uthappa, Suryakumar Yadav and Umesh Yadav.
Kings XI Punjab: Kings XI Punjab: David Miller (Capt.), Kyle Abbott, Murali Vijay, Manan Vohra, Mitchell Johnson, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Anureet Singh, Axar Patel, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Pardeep Sahu, Sandeep Sharma, Mohit Sharma, Marcus Stoinis, Swapnil Singh, Armaan Jaffer, Farhaan Behardien, KC Cariappa, Rishi Dhawan, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Nikhil Naik, Shardul Thakur.
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