The Eden Gardens, Kolkata will be the venue for the 11th game of the season between Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab. The KXIP side has made the perfect start to the campaign having won both their initial games whereas KKR won emphatically in their first game against Gujarat Lions but went down in a close encounter against Mumbai Indians.
KXIP had finished at the bottom of the points table in the previous two seasons but it’s been a wonderful turnaround for them so far as both their bowlers and batsmen have fired. They look rejuvenated under the leadership of their new captain Glenn Maxwell and have proved to be a force to reckon with.
On the other hand, the two-time champions KKR chased down the total of 184 against GL in just 14.5 overs having all 10 wickets in the bag. They were in a winning position against MI too but some lousy fielding at the end threw away the advantage.
It promises to be an intriguing contest as two well-balanced sides go head to head. Here is a look at the 5 winning factors for the teams.
#1 With the bat
KKR suffered a huge loss after Chris Lynn succumbed to a shoulder injury while attempting to take an overhead catch in their last game against MI. He was able to carry forward his form from the Big Bash into the IPL, but sadly went down whilst wearing the orange cap on his head.
In his absence, one would expect Kolkata to go back to their previous opening combination of Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa. The skipper has shown good form having scored 95 runs in 2 innings. Uthappa, however, has failed to contribute so far and now the onus would be on him to fill in for Lynn. Uthappa has been a different class in the IPL since joining Kolkata and would like to get this season going as soon as possible.
Manish Pandey played a terrific knock of 81 against MI and Kolkata will be looking towards him to deliver again.
The focus would be on Yusuf Pathan to provide the impetus and in the absence of Andre Russell in the middle order. He needs to account for the added responsibility to finish the innings on a high.
KXIP’s batting has clicked in both the games so far as well with opener Hashim Amla doing a great job. The South African scored a match-winning 58 against RCB in the last game and his decent run of form has kept the experienced Shaun Marsh out of the playing XI.
The other opener Manan Vohra has shown promise in two games but has failed to capitalise on good starts. And now he needs to convert that to a big score to aid the middle-order. Axar Patel was promoted to bat at number four to play the role of a pinch hitter in the both their previous games but the move hasn’t worked.
Their biggest positive so far has been the form of Maxwell who has batted at a strike rate of 207.14 and remained unbeaten so far. His partner in crime David Miller also played a decent innings against RPS. And if Punjab are to stay in the top four, the duo needs to keep firing throughout the season.
KKR is usually known for a great bunch of bowlers but this year, they haven’t been up to the mark as the scores of 183 and 180 have been scored against them. This has much do with the kind of surfaces they played on. Rajkot and Mumbai produced high scoring pitches and they will play their first home game now.
The pitch at Eden Gardens was relaid a few months back and it won’t assist the spinners like it used to which was also KKR’s strength. With Umesh Yadav now back in the frame, it will be interesting to see Kolkata’s pace combination for the next game.
KXIP had put up two wonderful shows with the ball in their last two games and they rely heavily on Indian bowlers. The responsibility would once again be on the pacers and Sandeep Sharma and Varun Aaron were instrumental in their wins. Mohit Sharma did well in the first game but received a beating at the hands of AB de Villiers in the second game and he would need resurrection.
Their biggest positive in that department has been the bowling of Axar Patel. The left-arm spinner had figures of 27/1 and 12/1 in two matches and has an economy rate of just 4.88. He might not get help from the pitch this time around and hence he needs to play the role of the run-stopper once more.
Over the years, the surface at Eden Gardens has had a history of assisting the spinners but it was relaid recently and this will be the first game of the IPL to be played on the new deck. KKR have kept a flurry of spinners in the squad always but things can change now.
The most recent ODI that was played between India and England earlier this year in Kolkata had produced a run feast. The visitors had scored 321 runs batting first and India almost got there but fell short by just five runs.
The noticeable thing from the match was that Indian spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja went for over 6 runs an over and even the pacers didn’t have a great time. The batsmen enjoyed a nice outing there which gives an indication of what could be expected from that surface in the IPL.
The trend in the IPL so far has been to bowl first after winning the toss and it would be the favourable choice in Kolkata as well. When there in not much idea of the conditions, it would be better to send the opposition in first. KXIP have won both the games so far while chasing and KKR too achieved their solitary victory batting second and once more chasing should be the order of the day.
#4 X-factor: Narine to pick more wickets for KKR
For the past five years, Sunil Narine has been the most prolific wicket-taker for KKR and has made it difficult for every batsman to score runs off him. His mystery spin combined with the pace doesn’t give too much time for the batsmen to adjust.
But with his remodelled action, he hasn’t proved to be that threatening so far in the season. Against GL, he gave away 33 runs in 4 overs whilst remaining wicketless. However, against MI he had better returns as he finished with figures of 1/22.
Although his economy rate is just fine, the wickets’ column is not where it used to be earlier. He has to come back amongst the wickets as soon as possible to better KKR’s chances this year.
There is a possibility that he might not find a lot of turn in Kolkata and in that case, he needs to be the bowler who keeps a check on the run-rate.
#5 Maxwell to bat up the order for KXIP
Glenn Maxwell was appointed the captain of the side before the league and it had raised a few eyebrows as he did not have any healthy captaincy experience. Then there was also the presence were international captains like Darren Sammy and Eoin Morgan in the squad which made the decision look even more derisory.
But so far he has managed to answer the critics with his aggressive captaincy and blistering batting. In the first match against RPS, he scored 44 off just 20 balls to see his side home and backed it up another 43 off 22 balls against RCB that gave his side their second victory.
His strike rate so far this season has been 207.14 and he is already looking in top form. His side is heavily dependent on his performances. In the 2014 edition, the Australian had scored 552 runs in 16 innings and was the third highest run-getter in the league and consequently, KXIP were the table toppers after the league stage.
But in the last two seasons, he was in an awful touch and hardly contributed and as a result, his team finished last on the points table on two consecutive seasons.
His form this year has been ominous and so he needs to face more deliveries in an innings. Axar Patel was sent to bat at number four as a pinch-hitter but the move didn’t pay rich dividends. Maxwell batted at number five in the order on both occasions.
The thing that worked in his favour was that the top order built a platform for him to finish the innings. But it won’t happen every time and he has to bat up the order. If not at three, he needs to bat at least at number four and not beyond that.