| Gautam Gambhir in New Delhi, on Sunday. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha |
New Delhi: On Saturday, the Kolkata Knight Riders were part of a match, at the Eden, where the fans had to choose between the home team and the home hero. A day after, the problem of the Delhi crowd will be somewhat similar when they will have to choose between two of its favourite sons — Virender Sehwag or Gautam Gambhir.
On Monday, the Knights will pit their wits against the Delhi DareDevils at the Kotla in a match which promises to be a humdinger with the top two teams of IPL-V so far battling to assert their supremacy.
Gambhir and Sehwag grew up playing in the capital before graduating to the Indian team where they have forge a formidable Test opening pair. Their mutual admiration notwithstanding, none would concede an inch without a fight when they lead their teams out on Monday.
To add to it, both the captains are in great form at the moment and have been playing crucial roles with the bat for their respective teams. While Sehwag, the undisputed king of Kotla, have scored 445 runs so far, Gambhir is not far behind with 421 runs against his name.
Except for Ajinkya Rahane of the Rajasthan Royals, no batsman has scored more runs in the ongoing edition of the IPL.
No wonder Kotla has seen a record sale of tickets in the past couple of days. It seems that cricket fans in the capital are treating the tie as the unofficial final of IPL-V and a sold out crowd is likely to fill up the stands.
The Knights, fresh from their seven-run win over Sourav Ganguly’s Pune Warriors India at the Eden, arrived in Delhi on Sunday evening and opted not to have nets. The home team, on the other hand, had a 90-minute practice session at the Kotla.
“It is going to be a highly interesting match, we simply can’t be complacent,” said DareDevils’ Sri Lankan star Mahela Jayawardene. “The Knights are definitely going great guns... Gautam himself is doing a great job and leading from the front... Their top order is scoring, and even the middle order is doing well.”
The Knights and the DareDevils are now engaged in a neck-to-neck battle for the top position in the points table. The home team are currently occupying the No.1 spot with 16 points from 10 matches, while the Knights are only a point behind after playing 11 matches. While Sehwag & Co. have won eight matches, the visitors have so far triumphed in seven.
Since losing against the Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur on April 8, the Knights have done remarkably well in their away matches. After beating the Royal Challengers Bangalore at their own den, Gambhir’s boys have gone from strength to strength to humble Kings XI Punjab, Deccan Chargers and the Chennai Super Kings in Mohali, Cuttack and Chennai respectively.
But despite enjoying their best season in the IPL history till date, the encounter against the DareDevils could turn out to be the most difficult one for the Knights. While Sehwag can always make the difference with his flamboyant batting, their bowling has been one of the strongest with South African Morne Morkel leading the way.
While the exit of in-form English batsman Kevin Pietersen is definitely a blow, the DareDevils are lucky to find David Warner joining the team in time. The hard hitting Australian batsman is likely to open the batting with Sehwag, leaving Sri Lankan veteran Jayawardene to come down on the order.
But apart from being pretty even in their strengths, both the team have been bugged by a similar problem — failure of the middle order.
A lot of expected from the Knights’ Yusuf Pathan, but the big man has scored only 59 runs from nine innings so far. The same goes with DareDevils’ Ross Taylor, who could now be replaced by West Indies all-rounder Andre Russell for Monday’s match. The last time the two teams met here was in the IPL-IV when the Knights were comfortable winners (by 17 runs), thanks to an unbeaten 61 by Man of the Match Manoj Tiwary.
Kolkata Knight Riders (likely): Gautam Gambhir (captain), Brendon McCullum, Yusuf Pathan, Jacques Kallis, Debabrata Das, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Manoj Tiwary, Rajat Bhatia, Sunil Narine, Marchant de Lange and Iqbal Abdulla.
Delhi DareDevils (likely): Virender Sehwag (captain), David Warner, Mahela Jayawardene, Andre Russell, Yogesh Nagar, Naman Ojha, Irfan Pathan, Pawan Negi, Morne Morkel, Shahbaz Nadeem and Umesh Yadav.