We preview the crunch IPL tie between the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Rising Pune Supergiant.
With two thirds of the 2017 tournament’s 60 fixtures completed, the Knight Riders and Supergiant will commence the business end this week – and attempt to gain ground on the log-leading Mumbai Indians and reigning champions Sunrisers Hyderabad.
While the Delhi Daredevils and Royal Challengers Bangalore have all but been removed from contention – and the hopes of the Gujarat Lions largely depends on others, the destinies of Kolkata and Pune remain in their hands.
KKR vs RPS | Wednesday, 3 May 2017 | Eden Gardens, Kolkata | 16:30
To Win Match
Knight Riders 67/100 | Tie 35/1 | Supergiant 5/4
Kolkata Knight Riders
This season has seen the Knight Riders lose only one match at Wednesday’s venue, where Gujarat ended on the right end of the result about two weeks ago. The toss was hugely important then, with the hosts’ struggles in setting – rather than chasing – a total severely exposed. Kolkata captain Gautam Gambhir, indeed, will want to win the flip of the coin – and bowl first.
The Knight Riders have successfully resurrected cricket’s old-school pinch-hitting role by elevating West Indian Sunil Narine to the top of the order. The move has afforded a batting order arguably overly reliant on Gambhir and the big-hitting Robin Uthappa additional length. With oft-pedestrian Darren Bravo the best of the bench strength, Narine should again open alongside the skipper against Pune.
The teams met a week ago, before Australian seamer Nathan Coulter-Nile had emerged as a genuine IPL match-winner. He now is – and must play ahead of New Zealand all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme. Coulter-Nile, too, is the right option with the new ball – inside the opening six-over Powerplay – instead of England’s Chris Woakes or Indian Umesh Yadav.
Defeated by Hyderabad on Sunday, Kolkata’s momentum has been somewhat dented. Entirely outgunned by centurion David Warner then, they need to ensure they’re not outdone by Pune’s Ben Stokes, who was at his big-hitting best en route to a match-winning ton against the Lions on Monday. The home side’s bowlers, particularly Woakes, simply can’t afford to feed Stokes the fodder coughed up by Gujarat.
Rising Pune Supergiant
Stokes, however, might not play. He battled cramp – and a potential calf or hamstring injury – against Gujarat, suggesting a challenging 48-hour turnaround for the Englishman. Stokes’ absence would reopen the door for New Zealander Lockie Ferguson, whose pace could be a welcome element. Seamer Stokes enjoyed some genuine speed against the Lions, but not the heights synonymous with Ferguson.
The Supergiant lost to the Knight Riders on both occasions last season, but boast guile and gall not witnessed in 2016, with the veteran Mahendra Singh Dhoni and captain Steven Smith the epitome of this. Their individual and collective leadership is arguably the best in the eight-team competition – and will again be vital during Wednesday’s crucial juncture.
Their recovery from 10 for three against the Lions said a lot for the steel and fight within, but the team the inconsistency of the experienced Ajinkya Rahane must be questioned. Fellow opener Raul Tripathi is performing well, but perhaps a change of partner is necessary come Wednesday. South African Faf du Plessis wouldn’t be an untoward alternative, but would affect a balance that allows only four players from abroad per XI.
If Pune bat first, a 200-plus total – regardless of conditions – will be the requirement. Kolkata are excellent at pursuing big targets, but the Sunrisers recently showed they’re fallible in pursuit, particularly if the introduction of the spinners is delayed. Gambhir and company, indeed, have been guilty of premature and overt aggression against the slow bowlers.
Verdict: Rising Pune Supergiant 5/4
Momentum is a massive factor in Twenty20 cricket. Pune have it. Kolkata don’t. While not the downright favourite for ultimate glory, yet, the Supergiant are gradually putting into place the results required for a maiden title.