IPL 7: KXIP and KKR face off for place in final

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Kolkata | Updated: May 27 2014, 14:22pm hrs
Yusuf PathanYusuf Pathan?s return to form is a big plus point for the Kolkata Knight Riders going into the final stage of the seventh season.
Two years ago at Eden Gardens, Kolkata and the Knight Riders celebrated their maiden IPL triumph in the scorching summer heat.

The Knight Riders are now on a hot streak after winning seven matches in a row, a run which has helped them pave their path to the play-offs after being inconsistent at the start of the season.

Kolkata now have to win two more matches, including Qualifier 1 against Kings XI Punjab, to revisit the glory of 2012. Raising the IPL trophy for a second time, a feat only the Chennai Super Kings have achieved, will be easier said than done. Punjab are the best team of this IPL and have romped to the play-offs with 22 points from 14 group matches.

They too have the winning momentum and more importantly, a host of match-winners. But with 65,000 partisan fans at the Eden Gardens, things can be pretty intimidating for the visitors. The challenge for George Baileys men will be to keep calm.

Heavy artillery

On the face of it, tomorrows game should be a battle of big hitters. Kolkata have Purple Cap holder Robin Uthappa, a marauding Shakib Al Hasan and Yusuf Pathan, reborn after his 22-ball 72 against Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Punjab can respond with Virender Sehwag, Manan Vohra, Glenn Maxwell, David Miller and skipper Bailey. But weather could play spoilsport as it has been raining here since Sunday morning. So the Eden Gardens is under covers, forcing the two teams to cancel their training sessions on the match eve. More rain is forecast over the next 24 hours and it has put a question mark over a full quota of overs being bowled.

Theres every chance of the Duckworth and Lewis method coming into play and that will make it anybodys game. The saving grace is that there are reserve days for play-off matches. In case of back-to-back washouts, however, the higher-placed team goes through.

So far, things are pretty even between the two teams in this IPL. Punjab won by 22 runs in Abu Dhabi. Kolkata avenged it in Cuttack with a nine-wicket victory. Interestingly, both matches were relatively low-scoring affairs.

A total of 324 runs in 14 matches (highest score 72, strike-rate 132.78) suggest that Virender Sehwag has made a decent contribution in this tournament without being explosive. This is his big moment. Kolkata have a 100 per cent winning record at Eden Gardens this season and in all those three matches they have benefited from the reactive approach of their opponents.

The power-play scores against them in the last three matches here read: 49 for one (Sunrisers Hyderabad), 36 for one (Royal Challengers Bangalore) and 35 for one. So the opponents have failed to take the attack to Kolkata bowlers as they waited for their opportunities to arrive. Sehwag hates to be reactive. But hes 35-year-old and past his prime.

Sehwag factor

Does he still possess the firepower to put Morne Morkel and company under pressure

Players, when they get older, may struggle for consistency a bit, but that doesnt mean they cant score in the same manner that they did once before. Sehwag is still a very dangerous player and has batted really well on occasions in this tournament. So we are certainly not taking him lightly.

Hes a class-act and a very destructive batsman. We will have to get him out very early, Kolkata coach Trevor Bayliss said. From Punjabs point of view, they will hope Sehwag bats for at least 10 overs.

Amid the euphoria of Kolkatas top two finish and Pathans carnage, Uthappas another 40-plus contribution went a little unnoticed in the last game. But the opener has been Kolkatas shining light in this tournament with 613 runs at a strike-rate of 137.44. Punjab somehow have to find a way to get him out early.

So its time for Mitchell Johnson to stand up and make a mark. The Australian quick so far has bowled well within himself with 12 wickets from 11 matches at an economy rate of 7.90. But tomorrows game calls for an impact performance from Johnson and the match winners from both sides.

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