The Kings XI Punjab this year have started the IPL on fire, under a new skipper, Glenn Maxwell. Kolkata Knight Riders made short work of a stiff target set by Gujarat Lions thanks to a breathtaking blitzkrieg by Chris Lynn, who unfortunately, hurt his shoulder in the second game.
That probably rules him out of this fixture for sure, debilitating KKR a great deal. Nevertheless, they are a quality side and would surely find more heroes. While KXIP has won both its games in style, defeating RCB convincingly in their last match, KKR have won a game scintillatingly, then lost the player who made that win possible in Chris Lynn, and then lost a game from the jaws of victory against Mumbai Indians.
The momentum is with KXIP but it is KKR’s home ground and they are known for their resilience.
Here, we take a look at the top four player battles that can be expected from this game!
#1 Gautam Gambhir (KKR) v Sandeep Sharma (KXIP)
Kings XI Punjab’s underrated fast bowler, Sandeep Sharma, can swing the ball both ways at a lively pace. He was impressive with the new ball against RCB, with numbers of 1-26 in four overs. He managed figures of 2-33 in his 4 overs against Pune in a winning cause.
KXIP are heavily reliant on their Indian bowlers and Sandeep Sharma is definitely carrying a ton of that responsibility. Sharma was 0-25 in his 4 overs in the last encounter between the two teams and he would take those numbers with both hands.
Gambhir was sensational in the first match against Gujarat Lions with a 68-ball 76, unbeaten against a mediocre bowling line-up. He fell cheaply in the match against Mumbai Indians but is one of the top players when it comes to notching up half-centuries in the IPL if they don’t get him early.
His open stance has helped him be more attacking but he is also more vulnerable to the fast in-swingers that Sandeep can generate. I would certainly back Sandeep to get the better of Gambhir in this game.
#2 Manish Pandey (KKR) v Axar Patel (KXIP)
Pandey, who scored an unbeaten 81 for KKR in a losing cause, would be key to KKR’s chances. The middle order batsman would definitely have to contend with the left-arm spin of Axar Patel who has had two good matches in a row, 1/12 in 4 overs against RCB and 1/27 against Rising Pune Supergiant.
Patel has done well against KKR in IPL 2016 as well - 0/24 in 4 overs and 2/19 in 3 overs in the two league games, even though KKR won both times.
Pandey on the other hand, would absolutely love to make immense of the opportunity. He scored only 12 in one outing and didn’t bat in the other when the two teams met last year. Axar Patel doesn’t turn the ball much but he will be a handful to deal with at the Eden Gardens, which is usually a little slower.
Bowling second could be tougher given the dew. Pandey, IPL’s first Indian centurion, might turn the tide in his favour this time, after his previous exploits and the confidence he has gained.
#3 Kuldeep Yadav (KKR) v Glenn Maxwell (KXIP)
Kuldeep Yadav bamboozled Maxwell in the fourth Test at Dharamsala with the wrong’un, on Test debut. But T20 is an altogether different ballgame. Both Yadav and Maxwell have been in excellent form with ball and bat respectively. It will be an exciting contest for sure.
Yadav has registered figures of 2-25 against Gujarat Lions and 1-35 against Mumbai Indians. Maxwell is in a murderous batting mood with two unbeaten cameos, 43* off 22 against RCB and 44* off 20 against Pune. But, playing spin is his achilles heel, and Kuldeep, in particular, on a sticky Kolkata wicket would be tough to handle.
That contest could very much determine who will come out on top as Gautam Gambhir, being the shrewd captain that he is, would definitely test his opposite number with spin. Maxwell is a man on a mission, leading KXIP and would like to rediscover the form that helped him take KXIP to the IPL Final couple of seasons ago.
#4 Sunil Narine (KKR) v David Miller (KXIP)
West Indian spinner Sunil Narine, who is probably KKR’s best spinner, will be Gambhir’s trump card. After an ordinary match where he went for 0-33 in his 4 overs against Gujarat Lions, Narine came back well with figures of 1-22 against Mumbai Indians. Narine who played in only one of the two league fixtures last year, had registered figures of 2-22.
David Miller didn’t bat against RCB but scored a breezy, unbeaten 30 against Pune in a match-winning partnership with Glenn Maxwell. The South African southpaw will definitely have a big role to play at the Eden Gardens, which is KKR’s bastion. Miller has won many a match on his own batting strength, bringing KXIP from the dead quite a few times.
However, he failed both times against KKR last year. Narine’s deception, especially on a sluggish pitch, will be tough to attack, unless dew sets in early and KXIP are batting second. It makes the toss very important as well.