The IPL has reached its business end with all but one team – Chennai Super Kings – in contention for a place in the playoffs. Mumbai Indians, Delhi Capitals and Royal Challengers Bangalore occupy the top three spots in the table and all of them are nearly there, but the race is wide open for the fourth slot.
Two contenders for that last berth face off at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Monday. The match between Kings XI Punjab and Kolkata Knight Riders should be a fascinating one, with both looking in good firm and keen to get that crucial win in the last lap of the qualifying phase.
The double-header weekend had provided some pulsating action from the deserts of Arabia. The new week is set to kick off with more excitement, as the fourth-placed team, KKR, takes on the side lying fifth, KXIP.
Both have played 11 matches, but the Knight Riders have two points more. With 14 points they are, in fact, tied with Mumbai and Delhi. So it’s the men from Punjab who are under a bit more pressure. But, then, they are on a roll, having notched up four wins from their last four matches.
The fourth of those victories – against RCB – was snatched from the jaws of defeat. The bowlers did a great job to suffocate the Bangalore batsmen, who somehow failed to chase down what should have been one of the easiest targets in this year’s tournament.
Needing 127, Virat Kohli’s men were 100 for three with four overs remaining. But seamers Chris Jordan and Arshdeep Singh came up with superb spells to gift their team an unexpected victory.
Pace spearhead Mohammed Shami and wrist spinners Ravi Bishnoi and M. Ashwin too have played their parts in the great turnaround story for KXIP, which had been languishing at the rock bottom not so long ago.
The key men
But the team’s strength has been batting. Captain K.L. Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, who is expected to return after sitting out the last match, Chris Gayle, Nicholas Pooran and Glenn Maxwell, are all capable of winning matches single-handedly.
Like Punjab, Eoin Morgan’s men too are coming into the match after a morale-boosting win in their last match, that too against Delhi, easily one of the best sides in the tournament.
The 59-run victory was set up by Nitish Rana and Sunil Narine. Shubman Gill and Eoin Morgan have been amongst the runs, too, though the former’s strike rate could be better at the top of the order.
Lockie Ferguson’s addition to the eleven – albeit belatedly – has transformed KKR’s bowling. The genuine quick from New Zealand has been brilliant on the slow surfaces in the UAE.
His trans-Tasman neighbour Pat Cummins has played every game. The tall fast bowler has been brilliant too and has also made some useful runs down the order. Spinner Varun Chakravarthy, who took five wickets against Delhi, will be raring to go again.
The side’s first meeting had ended in a two-run victory for Kolkata, and that was Punjab’s last defeat before the turnaround.
KKR (probable XI): Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana, Rahul Tripathi, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Sunil Narine, Eoin Morgan (c), Pat Cummins, Shivam Mavi/Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Lockie Ferguson, Prasidh Krishna, Varun Chakravarthy
Kings XI (probable XI): KL Rahul (c, wk), Mayank Agarwal/Mandeep Singh, Chris Gayle, Nicholas Pooran, Glenn Maxwell/James Neesham, Deepak Hooda, Chris Jordan, M Ashwin, Ravi Bishnoi, Mohammed Shami, Arshdeep Singh
Game No. 46: Kolkata Knight Riders v Kings Punjab.
Venue: Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
Date: October 26, Monday.
Time: 7.30 p.m.