KKR, RR, IPL 2018
KKR have won both the matches against RR in IPL 2018 (Image courtesy: BCCI)

Rajasthan Royals (RR) had little chance of advancing to the IPL 2018 Playoffs. Not only did they have to beat a recharged Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in their final league game, but they also had to hope for Mumbai Indians’ (MI) defeat against Delhi Daredevils (DD). Even that wasn’t going to be enough. They also had to hope for Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) not defeating Chennai Super Kings (CSK) by 53 runs or more. But everything fell into place, and RR qualified despite having a disappointing IPL campaign for a major part of the tournament. 

RR will look to continue to defy the odds when they face ‘home favourites’ Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in the IPL 2018 Eliminator at Eden Gardens, Kolkata on Wednesday. KKR are the only side that will play their Playoff matches at home. A win here will see either sides play Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) in Qualifier 2 at the same venue on Friday.

The DK times

Kolkata beat SRH to ensure their Playoff berth. With 8 wins and 6 defeats, they finished third in the league stage, behind CSK and SRH.

Unlike other sides, KKR have a trimmed squad and injuries haven’t helped either. Unlike other sides, they haven’t solely relied on individual brilliances. Their main artilleries have been skipper Dinesh Karthik and Sunil Narine, but almost everyone in the squad has risen to the challenge at various points of the tournament.

Karthik doesn’t seem to put a foot wrong ever since Nidahas Trophy. He has batted beautifully for his 438 runs this season. 13 of his 14 innings have come at No. 5 or below. If Karthik has finished games at will, Narine has provided KKR blazing starts. With 327 runs at a strike rate of 189 and 16 wickets at an economy rate of 7.6, Narine has been the most valuable player in the tournament. 

Prasidh Krishna has shown tremendous maturity. Shivam Mavi, too, has rattled the best with his pace. Kuldeep Yadav found form against the Royals when the sides last met.

Chris Lynn seems to be enjoying the new role of being the one, often dropping anchor when a chase is on track. Robin Uthappa’s indifferent form was a concern, but he got runs in their previous match against SRH. And Andre Russell is always a threat, not only with bat but also as a partnership-breaker.

Likely XIs

IANS reports, “BCCI East Zone curator Ashish Bhowmick has been tasked to prepare the track and it is expected to have a fair bit of grass on it.” KKR will not want to tinker much with their playing 11. If there is enough grass, they may be tempted to play Mavi and Mitchell Johnson.

Kolkata Knight Riders Probable 11: Sunil Narine, Chris Lynn, Robin Uthappa, Nitish Rana, Dinesh Karthik (c & wk), Shubman Gill, Andre Russell, Piyush Chawla/Shivam Mavi, Tom Curran/Mitchell Johnson, Kuldeep Yadav, Prasidh Krishna.

Rajasthan have massive holes to be filled. The absence of Ben Stokes and their best batsman Jos Buttler will haunt them in the crucial match. Their bowling have come good. The understrength Royals bowled beautifully against RCB and that’s what they will rely on in the Eliminator. With Krishnappa Gowtham, Shreyas Gopal and Ish Sodhi in good form, Royals will look forward to attack KKR with spin.

Rajasthan Royals Probable 11: Jofra Archer, Rahul Tripathi, Ajinkya Rahane (c), Sanju Samson, Heinrich Klaasen (wk), Stuart Binny/Dhawal Kulkarni, Krishnappa Gowtham, Shreyas Gopal, Jaydev Unadkat, Ish Sodhi, Ben Laughlin.

Prediction: Kolkata clearly have the upper hand. Not only they have a more settled unit, but Karthik has marshalled his troop better than Rahane. In fact, Karthik seems to improve as leader with every game. RR may have a 9-8 head-to-head advantage, but KKR have outplayed them on both occasions this season.