The most consistent team of this season will be up against the most resilient side of the current edition when Kings XI Punjab lock horns with Kolkata Knight Riders in the first Qualifier clash of the IPL in Kolkata on Tuesday.
Previously known for being under-achievers, Kings XI Punjab have been the most outstanding team this season, and are at the top of the table thanks to a superlative batting show from Glenn Maxwell.
With two wins from first seven matches, Kolkata Knight Riders were written off midway into the tournament but they bounced back to seal a playoff berth.
Later, Yusuf Pathan’s hurricane 22-ball 72 fired them up to second spot on net run rate, and they are in the middle of a record seven-match winning streak.
The heavyweight tag would be with KXIP but at the same time they would be wary of KKR’s momentum and it would be quite a challenge for George Bailey’s men to breach their opponent’s fortress at the Eden.
Both the teams are two wins away from the glittering trophy but a loss in the first qualifier will not be the end of the road either. The losing team would survive to play the second qualifier in the battle to make the final.
Yusuf has shown how dangerous he can be when he is middling the ball as even world number one pacer Dale Steyn was no challenge for him.
Yusuf smacked the South African for 26 runs in an over in his explosive innings of five fours and seven sixes.
KKR were required to chase 161 in 15.2 overs to topple Chennai Super Kings from the second place and Yusuf’s blitz ensured they cruised to the target in 14.2 overs.
Such was the impact that Mumbai Indians eliminated Rajasthan Royals on net run rate taking a cue from Yusuf’s innings, with Corey Anderson playing the role of the big-hitter in his unbeaten 44-ball 95 in a second stunner in as many days.
Yusuf will be a threat in the ranks of KKR, quite the same way Maxwell is in the KXIP line-up, in what promises to be yet another run feast with both teams boasting of powerful batting line-ups.
The ground has been under cover since yesterday because of a downpour, and both the teams will keep their fingers crossed as rain has been forecast for tomorrow.
There is a reserve day on May 28, but both teams would be keen for a result tomorrow without stretching it too far.
Under overcast conditions, the slow bowlers could play a crucial role and the KKR camp would have an extra edge in mystery spinner Sunil Narine — who currently has the Purple Cap. They also have left-armer Shakib Al Hasan in a potent spin attack.
Maxwell was dismissed by leg-spinners six times in this IPL, and Shakib will surely look to exploit the weakness of the Aussie.
Maxwell, who was rested against Rajasthan, has scored 16 runs from the last three innings and was out for a duck in their 116-run chase against Delhi Daredevils last night.
Boasting of a strong middle-order in David Miller, Manan Vohra, skipper Bailey and Wriddhiman Saha, KXIP should not worry much about Maxwell’s lean patch.
What, however, would be a cause of concern for KXIP is their spin bowling, with the likes of Rishi Dhawan and Akshar Patel not making much inroads. It would be interesting if they bring in Murali Kartik in their line-up.
With Mitchell Johnson spearheading the pace department, KXIP pacers have most number of wickets (62) but at the same time, their spinners have the fewest (24).
In terms of batting, Shaun Marsh, who has been a consistent performer for KXIP with about 2000 runs, has been benched with Maxwell and Miller stealing the show.
KXIP have lost to KKR, the second team after Mumbai Indians to have beaten the table-toppers this season, and the home side would surely fancy their chances with a vociferous crowd behind them.
KKR look a more balanced side of the two both in batting and bowling.
Leading run-getter Robin Uthappa, who has the Orange Cap with 613 runs from 14 matches, has been instrumental in giving fine starts with skipper Gautam Gambhir, who too has been impressive with 311 from 14 matches.
The duo has been successfully giving the team fine starts before the likes of Shakib, Ryan ten Doeschate and Yusuf fire up in the middle-order, which has been the KKR’s story so far this season.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (captain), Robin Uthappa (wk), Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan, Shakib Al Hasan, Ryan ten Doeschate, Suryakumar Yadav, Morne Morkel, Umesh Yadav, R Vinay Kumar, Sunil Narine, Jacques Kallis, Andre Russell, Pat Cummins, Chris Lynn, R Vinay Kumar, Manvinder Bisla, Debabrata Das, Kuldeep Yadav, Sayan Mondal and Veer Pratap Singh.
Kings XI Punjab: George Bailey (captain), Virender Sehwag, Manan Vohra, Glenn Maxwell, David Miller, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Akshar Patel, Mitchell Johnson, Rishi Dhawan, Karanveer Singh, Parvinder Awana, Beuran Hendricks, Shaun Marsh, Thisara Perera, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Murali Kartik, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sandeep Singh, Anureet Singh, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Mandeep Singh, Shivam Sharma and Shradul Thakur.