After a slow start to IPL 2017, Rising Pune Supergiant have turned on the style and are on a three-game winning streak as they take on Kolkata Knight Riders at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune. A convincing win over KKR could send RPS to second place and within just two points of league leaders Mumbai Indians.
Victory in the opener against MI seemed like the perfect start but three consecutive losses after that sent Steve Smith’s side spiraling down the table. Since then, though, they have gone back to winning ways and their big guns have finally started to fire.
Steve Smith has been in good form throughout the season along with Imran Tahir. But the biggest bonus from the past couple of wins has been the performances of MS Dhoni and Ben Stokes, who both came to the party and won their side the last two games, over Sunrisers Hyderabad and Mumbai Indians respectively.
KKR travel to Pune, knowing that following MI’s loss, they could go top of the table with a win over fourth-placed Supergiant. They will, however, be without the services of Nathan Coulter-Nile, who picked up the Man of the Match in their previous game against RCB but has been rested for the game against RPS.
KKR have looked in imperious form throughout the tournament and that has largely been down to their pace attack, which is the most productive in this year’s tournament with 34 wickets at an average of 19.82.
The track at Pune, though, has favored the spinners who have not only been more economical but also been amongst the wickets more frequently. That is likely to mean KKR might bring in Shakib Al Hasan to replace Coulter-Nile and bolster their spin department which already boasts of Sunil Narine and Kuldeep Yadav.
RPS, on the other hand, won’t be looking to change a winning combination and that is likely to mean that 17-year-old Washington Sundar will get another game. With Sunil Narine’s preference for fast bowlers in this year’s tournament, it won’t be a surprise if he opens the bowling for the hosts.
The battle between an in-form bowling line-up and a batting line-up that boasts of arguably the best batsman in the world, Steve Smith and two of the most destructive in Ben Stokes and MS Dhoni will be an intriguing one.
Match date: 26-04-2017
Match time: 2000 hours (IST)
Venue: Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium, Pune
If Rising Pune Supergiant bat first
Predicted score: 170+
Rahul Tripathi has been sensational since he was given the opportunity to open along with Ajinkya Rahane, Steve Smith has been consistent without always scoring the big runs while both MS Dhoni and Ben Stokes have contributed with the bat.
This is even before mentioning Manoj Tiwary, who has been simply sublime in his finisher role as he has finished the innings off expertly and given the final flourish that was lacking before. The only concern for Pune is the form of Rahane, but he too looked to be regaining his touch against MI in the last game.
With the fast start that Tripathi and Rahane have been giving RPS, the job of the middle-order has been made so much easier. While it is true that they have a slightly longer tail than most sides, Dan Christian, who comes in at No.7 hasn’t had much to do.
While KKR’s bowling line-up is one of the best in the tournament, without the in-form Coulter-Nile, their bowling attack does look slightly weaker. Kuldeep Yadav will be key with his variations but if the experienced RPS middle-order see him off, there are runs for the taking, which will help their slightly weaker bowling attack defend the target.
If Kolkata Knight Riders bat first
Predicted score: 160+
The Sunil Narine promotion has worked wonders for KKR so far as the West Indian has got them off to a flyer on most occasions. Gautam Gambhir already has two fifties in this year’s tournament and is yet to be dismissed for a single-digit score. Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey have both taken to their new roles like a duck to water.
So the top four are of little concern for KKR, but the real issue for them has been when their top-order has failed to fire. Yusuf Pathan doesn’t look in great touch, barring the previous game, Colin de Grandhomme has done precious little with either bat or ball and Suryakumar Yadav hasn’t set the world on fire either.
While they do have depth in their batting line-up as even the No.11, Kuldeep Yadav has a first-class century to his name, their middle-order has been inconsistent and if RPS manage to take early wickets, they might be able to restrict the visitors to a modest total.
KKR will also have to go up against an in-form Ben Stokes, who seem to have found his rhythm with the ball, Imran Tahir, who is never far from the action and the domestic duo of Shardul Thakur and Jaydev Unadkat who provide excellent variety to the bowling line-up.
Predicted winners: Rising Pune Supergiant