Gujarat Lions are coming off from three defeats on a trot © AFP
Gujarat Lions are coming off from three defeats on a trot © AFP

A battle between table toppers, Kolkata Knight Riders and Gujarat Lions will collide in Match 38 at Kolkata. The first and second-ranked teams will be hoping to almost confirm their qualification for playoffs with a win. KKR well led by Gautam Gambhir have been excellent in all areas. Be it bowling or batting, someone or the other has stepped up to perform. For the newbies Gujarat, it is a worrying time. Three back-to-back losses have marred what looked like being an brilliant first campaign. The defeats have meant they have also been dragged into the ugly fight for the playoff places, having been sitting comfortably at top after 7 games. FULL SCORECARD: Kolkata Knight Riders vs Gujarat Lions, IPL 2016, Match 38 at Kolkata

GL have had a few issues in the past games. The return from injury for Aaron Finch has been a boost, but he has been played at no.4 due to the form of Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum. Also the bowling has been a bit slack, and they are yet to hit the top mark. In such a crunch game, choosing a perfect XI will be tough, but we tried to have a crack at it.

Top-order: Oh yes, it’s the Chennai Super Kings’ combination in the top 3. Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum have been particularly impressive, but as individuals. Both formed a great pair during their time at CSK, but have struggled to click together. But the devastation they can cause is well known. For GL, scoring in unison will be the key for a good start. At No.3, it’s the skipper Suresh Raina. An ever-present in IPL, Raina hasn’t been particularly great this season. A total of 272 from 10 games may not sound bad, but such has been his stature in IPL that he is considered to be struggling. Yet, given the history, expect him to get runs sooner or later.

Middle-order: An extraordinary line-up of international players can sometimes be a problem for a side. And it has been proved by the fact that Aaron Finch has been played at no.4. A player who can cause utter devastation at the top, Finch showed decent promise coming at no.5 by scoring a half-century in the last game, and expect him to to be promoted back to no.4. After him, Dinesh Karthik will be very key to his side’s success. His calm and confident batting has been very impressive, and he has bailed his side out of games quite a number of times.

After them, Dwayne Bravo has been a key cog in their early success. 12 wickets this season has only added to his stature as an bowling all-rounder. But his batting has been left wanted a bit, with him struggling to get runs in the end. Yet, he is too good to be dropped when fit. And the final slot in the middle will fall to Ravindra Jadeja. Having seen his role changed from batting all-rounder to bowling all-rounder for India, he has been given more opportunities to bat by GL. He has not really lived up to his billing, yet he will be very crucial both with the bat and ball.

Lower-order: Praveen Kumar’s bowling has been very impressive this season’s IPL. His death bowling, coupled with early overs bowling has given Gujarat a good option. And he will be expected to provide his side with wickets. To support him, Dhawal Kulkarni will be very crucial. His slower balls have been particularly brilliant, and 9 wickets this season has shown his maturity.

The find of mystery man Shivil Kaushik has brought in a breath of fresh air to his side. While Pravin Tambe started off the campaign, his struggle meant Kaushik got his chance. And hasn’t he taken it. 4 wickets from four games has helped Gujarat get a option in terms of spin. The final spot was given to Pradeep Sangwan in the last game. But his disappointing display may just be enough to lose him a place in the side. It will be interesting to see if the youngster Ishan Kishan is bought back to add steel in batting, or Sangwan gets another chance.

Gujarat Lions likely XI: Dwayne Smith, Brendon McCullum, Suresh Raina(c), Aaron Finch, Dinesh Karthik(wk), Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishan Kishan/Pradeep Sangwan, Praveen Kumar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Shivil Kaushik