Marred by loss of form, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) for for the first time this season are in a spot of bother as they face defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) in the Eliminator match of the Indian Premier League (IPL) on Wednesday slated to be played at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru.
The winner of this match will face the loser of Qualifier 1 — Mumbai Indians — in the second Qualifier on May 19 to register a place in the final of the IPL season.
Having lost four out of the last six matches, Kolkata Knight Riders Captain Gautam Gambhir has a huge task of lifting the team together ahead of the crucial tie tonight.
Sunrisers Hyderabad started low at the beginning of their campaign, but the team gained promising en route with more and more game they played together. As of now, David Warner led unit seems to be in no mood away to give away their title easily.
Kolkata Knight Riders will enter the game with fresh scars they suffered in their last game against Mumbai Indians that cost them a chance to the make it to the final two teams in the points table before the playoffs.
Though Mumbai Indians won the game by 9 runs in a nerve clinching affair but the highlight of the encounter was the fact that the MI had rested six of their key players against the knight Riders.
KKR Coach Jacques Kallis must have made a note of the vulnerability — Knight Riders lost too many wickets in an attempt to accelerate the inning without any game plan.
Having said that, no one can rule out the fact that Gautam Gambhir led Knight Riders is still the most destructive side in the tournament with enough of arsenal to take the game away from the opposition in a fraction of the time.
Starting with the openers, Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine are responsible for denting the opponents in the Power Play — they have been successful more often than not.
The surprise trump card of playing Sunil Narine up the order in absence of Chris Lynn while he was injured is touted as the masterstroke of this IPL season.
The mysterious off-spinner from Trinidad has accumulated 214 runs in 14 games — virtually a bonus for KKR as his prime job is still to bowl tidy overs and scalp opposition wickets.
On the other hand, Lynn exposed his intentions as early as their first game of the season with unbeaten 93 off 41 balls against Gujarat Lions. The fearsome right-handed Australian has so far hovered 285 runs in 5 matches to speak in volume of the pain he can inflict on SRH bowlers if he gets going tonight as well.
The sudden outbreak in the Power Play is later cashed by incoming Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa.
Both Gambir (454 runs in 14 matches) and Uthappa (386 runs in 12 matches) are enjoying the best of the IPL season so far.
The duo is very effective in composing the shape of the session in the middle overs without impeding the scoreboard of the team.
In case KKR loses their openers one of them can easily shift gears and accelerate the run rate while the other can anchor at the other end and keep rotating the strike.
The middle order of Knight Riders is led by Manish Pandey — 396 runs in 14 matches — who can anchor as well as lead the onslaught along with Yusuf Pathan during the death overs of the game.
Another major boost that we keep talking about is the way KKR speedsters have flourished this season.
The team which was once more reliant on their spinners has come of age with the likes of Umesh Yadav (14 wickets), Nathan Coulter-Nile (11 wickets) and Chris Woakes (17 wickets) all taking the centre stage to seize the attacking opponents at significant stages of the game.
Besides that, Sunil Narine and Kuldeep Yadav with 22 wickets between themselves are handy to get away with the middle overs without dropping too many runs.
In total, Kolkata Knight Riders look a very resolved side and is a top contender for the coveted IPL 2017 trophy. All the team needs to practice at the hour is — restrained aggression.
Talking of the opponents, Sunrisers Hyderabad is one team that has assuredly grown in stature and form as the IPL 2017 season has progressed.
David Warner led Hyderabad qualified for the playoffs with a thumping triumph against batsmen laced side Gujarat Lions —defeated by 8 wickets — in their final league game. The team looks sharp and eager to retain their IPL title under all circumstances.
The strongest part about the SRH is the bursting opening pair of David Warner and Shikhar Dhawan.
Leading from the front, skipper Warner — 604 runs in 14 matches — has been the most detrimental force in SRH camp this entire season. The skipper is currently the Orange Cap holder and has scored 600+ runs in two successive IPL editions.
With 468 runs in 14 matches, Shikhar Dhawan is enjoying the time in the middle and has contributed wearily to Sunrisers rise this season.
Together the duo helps SRH set a platform that the middle order can come and capitalise on in the succeeding part of the innings.
With no Kane Williamson in the picture, the middle order of SRH will depend on the likes of all-rounders Yuvraj Singh and Moises Henriques and Deepak Hooda — all so far have been performing a short under par when associated to their reputation.
While Yuvraj Singh has scored 243 runs in 11 matches; Henriques has produced only 277 runs in 12 matches despite filling sufficient time in the middle.
With the competition in the final stages and no room for error left, Coach Tom Moody and VVS Laxman will want both of them to play a more computed inning and secure their way till the very final ball of the match.
Their tendency to give away the wicket at the crucial junctures puts SRH under tremendous pressure. A simple advice to both the batsmen will be to back their skills and not go after every delivery for a big hit.
The objectives will be no unusual for the wicketkeeper-batsman Naman Ojha who has failed to leave an impression so far in this IPL season.
The flashy lower order batsman from Madhya Pradesh — 63 runs in 13 matches — has been ineffective and tears the team during the death overs.
Sunrisers Hyderabad will be very pleased with the way Mohammed Siraj — 4 wickets for 32 runs — bowled against Gujarat Lions in their final league game.
His good form will take away the stress of SRH who is heavily reliant on Bhuvneshwar Kumar and the Afghan IPL entrant Rashid Khan in their bowling department.
It might not be wrong to say that Bhuvneshwar has started this year right from where he left the IPL last season. The right-arm medium pacer from Uttar Pradesh is the current Purple Cap holder with 25 wickets from 14 matches so far.
Bhuvneshwar is very well complimented by leggie Rashid Khan with 17 wickets from 14 matches.
Together the two play a very prominent role in providing early wickets and check the run flow during the crucial phase of the match.
Hyderabad is a strong unit and has already proved that last year. All they need tonight is to carry forward the all-round execution and let their game do the talking.
Having said that, one must also note that there is very little that separates Kolkata Knight Riders from Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Contrary to the other IPL editions, M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru has played slow and has been notoriously accommodating the bowlers this season.
Both David Warner and Gautam Gambhir trust their batting strength and will like to chase on Bengaluru track tonight.
When on song both SRH and KKR have enough firepower in their armoury to make any wicket look ridiculous.
Expect nothing less tonight.