If Kolkata Knight Riders win this match, they are through to the playoffs © IANS
Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) can book their spot in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2014 play-offs with a win over Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) on May 22. That will seal all the four spots in the IPL 7 play-offs. That would also see Bangalore lose out again. Shrikant Shankar writes about the key battles that would be crucial in the final outcome of the match.
Robin Uthappa vs Muttiah Muralitharan
Robin Uthappa has been the most in-form batsman in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2014 recently. Without being too slam-bang, the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) batsman has scored 489 runs in 12 matches. His up-swing in form has seen Kolkata win five matches in-a-row. Uthappa is second in the run-scorers’ charts with four half-centuries. He will face the wily-old Muttiah Muralitharan. The Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) off-spinner has been economical in the four matches he has played taking three wickets. While Muralitharan is well past his prime, he has the ability to fox batsmen, who will try and attack his bowling.
The last time Gautam Gambhir faced Mitchell Starc he was castled and departed for a golden duck © IANS
Gautam Gambhir vs Mitchell Starc
Gautam Gambhir was in a patch of great form for KKR as they began their winning streak. But in the last three matches, Gambhir has not been able to score many runs. While his lack of big scores has not affected KKR’s fortunes, Gambhir would be eager to get in amongst the runs. Up against him will be Mitchell Starc. The tall left-arm fast-medium bowler is not of the same ilk as Mitchell Johnson, but he is Australia’s future. He has been expensive and useful for RCB. He will test Gambhir with some chin-music. But the track at Eden Gardens may suit Gambhir more.
Yuvraj Singh is in sublime form and it will be interesting how he takes on slow left-arm off spinner Shakib Al Hasan who has grabbed a few wickets in the last few matches © PTI
Shakib Al Hasan vs Yuvraj Singh
He is one of the world’s best all-rounders. KKR have benefited with Shakib Al Hasan being in good form with both bat and ball. He has taken nine wickets in nine matches and scored 136 runs in seven innings. His battle will be against the enigmatic Yuvraj Singh. The latter lit up RCB’s fading chances with two of the best innings in IPL 7. Yuvraj Singh has scored 329 runs in 12 matches for Bangalore. While he has taken only four wickets, all those came in one match. Shakib is the better bowler, but Yuvraj most certainly is the better batsman. He is a class apart.
Sunil Narine vs Chris Gayle
This is an interesting battle. In Sunil Narine, KKR have the toughest bowler to score runs against. With 16 wickets, the mystery spinner has stifled opposition batting line-ups. Most batsmen are happy to just take singles off Narine to ensure they don’t lose their wickets against him. If that is the strategy Chris Gayle would adopt against his fellow West Indian, remains to be seen. Gayle has had a forgettable IPL 7 season so far. His severe loss of form has seen RCB almost miss out on another play-off in recent years. In eight matches, Gayle has scored only 190 runs. His strike-rate of 108.57 does not do justice to his batting abilities in the shortest format. But if someone can take on Narin and succeed, it is definitely Gayle.
Pat Cummins vs Virat Kohli
Pat Cummins is the fastest bowler in IPL 7. He is a real talent, but has been on the treatment table for the most part of his career. Cummins bowled with a lot of energy and pace against Chennai Super Kings. He would relish the opportunity to play only his second match in IPL so quickly after a long wait to play his first. Another reason RCB have struggled this season has been the form of captain Virat Kohli. His quick-fire 67 off 41 deliveries against Sunrisers Hyderabad in the previous match was a joy to watch. But his overall form has been below-average. Kohli has only scored 248 runs in 12 matches. For his class and ability, he should be doing better. A battle with the quick Cummins would be intriguing to watch.
Umesh Yadav vs AB de Villiers
KKR have another fine fast bowler in India’s Umesh Yadav. He took three wickets against Hyderabad and seems to have found his footing in IPL 7. But Umesh remains a raw talent and will be up against arguably the best batsman across formats. AB de Villiers has been one of the few positives for RCB in another disappointing season. De Villiers is sixth in the run-scorers chart, but he has also got those runs batting at Nos 5 and 6. RCB may want to bring him higher up the order as this is a must-win match in every single way. If de Villiers has a good day, KKR may enter their last match needing a win to secure their play-off spot.
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(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)