A resurgent Kolkata Knight Riders will look for their third victory in a row in their fight for survival when they face a struggling Rajasthan Royals in the IPL in Kolkata on Thursday.
Facing must-win scenarios, the two-time champions showed tremendous resilience to bounce back into reckoning after their wins over Sunrisers Hyderabad and Punjab Kings, both in dramatic last-ball finishes.
The wins have not only boosted their sagging morale, but also taken the side to sixth place from eighth on the points table.
As things stand, four teams, including KKR and Rajasthan Royals, are locked on 10 points in a mid-table traffic rush for the playoffs.
RR may be ahead on net run rate (NRR) but the equation could change quickly if KKR continue their winning run, as a victory for either side will take them into the top-four.
While KKR are high on confidence after two thrilling wins, the Royals — last season’s runners-up — would be at their lowest ebb after three defeats. The Royals had posted 200-plus totals, but were done in by some baffling strategies in two of their three losses, which has led to a must-win scenario for them as well.
In terms of key battles and team strategies, KKR would once again rely on Varun Chakravarthy, who has been the central character in both their previous wins.
Having defended nine runs in the last over against SRH, Chakravarthy’s 3/26 made all the difference against Punjab Kings.
At a time their seasoned slow bowler Sunil Narine is finding it difficult to get wickets, Chakravarthy has emerged as KKR’s spin spearhead with 17 wickets so far this season.
While KKR’s think-tank refuses to give up on Narine, who has just one wicket in the last eight matches, it’s Chakravarthy’s four overs which would again be crucial.
With the KKR team management not bowling World Test Championship final-bound Shardul Thakur against PBKS, the pace department looked woefully short on experience.
Had it not been for the heroics of Rinku Singh and Andre Russell, the seam duo of Vaibhav Arora and Harshit Rana had almost lost the match after leaking 36 runs in the last two overs against PBKS.
It remains to be seen if KKR utilise the services of a “fit-again” Shardul in the crunch match. Against a batter-heavy Royals with the likes Yashasvi Jaiswal, Jos Buttler and Sanju Samson in fine form, KKR would hope their bowlers get their act together.
While KKR need to plug the gaps in the pace bowling department, the Royals must take a fresh look at their bowling strategy.
Defending 214 against SRH, the Royals’ decision to give Kuldip Yadav the penultimate over instead of Obed McCoy backfired as the rookie seamer conceded 24 runs.
The biggest positive for KKR in their win over PBKS has been the return to form of the big-hitting Andre Russell (42 runs off 23 balls).
The Jamaican was at his vintage best when he demolished Sam Curran with three sixes in a match-flipping 20-run penultimate over.
While skipper Nitish Rana has been the backbone of their batting, Rinku’s emergence as a finisher is coming off well for the team. From the Royals’ perspective, the trio of Rana, Rinku and Russell would be their main threats. Their battle against the Royals’ spin-bowling stalwarts Ravichandran Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal in the middle overs could prove to be decisive.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Nitish Rana (c), Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Jason Roy, Venkatesh Iyer, Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Shardul Thakur, Lockie Ferguson, Umesh Yadav, Tim Southee, Harshit Rana, Varun Chakravarthy, Anukul Roy, Rinku Singh, N. Jagadeesan, Vaibhav Arora, Suyash Sharma, David Wiese, Kulwant Khejroliya, Mandeep Singh, Aarya Desai and Johnson Charles.
Punjab Kings: Sanju Samson (c), Yashasvi Jaiswal, Jos Buttler, Shimron Hetmyer, Joe Root, Devdutt Padikkal, Dhruv Jurel, Riyan Parag, Sandeep Sharma, Trent Boult, Obed McCoy, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Sen, Kuldip Yadav, Ravichandran Ashwin, Yuzvendra Chahal, KC Cariappa, Jason Holder, Donovan Ferreira, Kunal Rathore, Adam Zampa, KM Asif, Murugan Ashwin, Akash Vashisht and Abdul P A.
Match starts: 7.30pm.