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KKR & Warriors cross swords

Pune: They began their campaign on a high, but the tag of being the defending champions started to weigh heavy on them and even before IPL-VI reached the halfway mark, they were lost in the maze of losses.

With defeats outnumbering wins by a good distance, making the play-offs needed a Herculean effort from the Kolkata Knight Riders. But even that possibility was almost shut out after their 65-run defeat at the hands of the Mumbai Indians, on Tuesday. Almost, because remote mathematical possibilities still exist. But chances of that happening is as good as that of the pigs flying.

So on Thursday, when the Knights face the Pune Warriors there will be little to gain for both the sides. There will be some desperation among the Knights, but the same cannot be said about the Warriors, who are languishing at the bottom of the points table.

But as they say, the show must go on… So will it be at the Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium. The Knights should be optimistic and the Warriors should sport a no-fear attitude. Only then might we see an engrossing contest.

On Wednesday, the Knights reached the city around 5pm and chose not to go for the practice session. However, three players - Gautam Gambhir, Eoin Morgan and Manvinder Singh Bisla - did attend a promotional for a short while.

The Warriors, on the other hand, toiled hard in the middle for more than two hours, with Yuvraj Singh and Angelo Mathews drawing the onlookers' attention with some delightful stroke play. They could be without Steve Smith, who has a back problem.

From hereon, it will mostly be about searching for motivation. After the defeat against the Mumbai Indians, Eoin Morgan said the Knights would not sit and sulk about what happened in previous matches. “I think from here, it makes us a dangerous side. Teams will take us lightly and it gives us an extra bit of positivity than anything else,” he commented.

But with eight points to show from a dozen outings, one does not need a calculator to know what lies ahead. Even if they make a spectacular comeback, top teams like Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians, Rajasthan Royals, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad can outwit them in the points table easily.

The Warriors, of course, are in a worse situation — with just two victories in 12 outings.

Thursday’s encounter could be an opportunity for Gautam Gambhir’s boys to redeem their shattered pride. Sounding clichéd? But that’s the reality. So dented is their pride at the moment that they would be eager to regain their some of their lost respect. Individually and as a team.

Nothing went right for the Knights in the fateful match against the Mumbai Indians. The selection of the playing XI on Tuesday was bewildering. Ryan McLaren was brought in to strengthen the pace attack. He conceded 60 runs from four overs to allow the opposition post a challenging score. Sri Lankan spinner Sachithra Senanayake was omitted to accommodate McLaren. The Mumbai Indians, on the other hand, played three spinners. They captured seven wickets among themselves.

The batsmen will have to take much of the responsibility for the flop show so far. Thursday’s tie against the Warriors could be a chance for the Knights to win their first match outside Eden Gardens this season. That the Warriors have never won against the Knights in their previous three meetings, will serve as a confidence-booster.

Hosts’ captain, Aaron Finch, however, is not ready to go down without a fight. “No doubt, the results have been very frustrating… But everything is not yet over. We still have four matches left and if we can win all of them, then we can finish by regaining some of the lost respect,” he said.

If Aaron’s words inspire the players to a victory, it will be further ignominy for the Knights. But that wouldn’t be very surprising, isn’t it?

Teams

Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (captain), Manvinder Bisla, Jacques Kallis, Yusuf Pathan, Eoin Morgan, Debabrata Das, Sachithra Senanayake, Rajat Bhatia, Iqbal Abdulla, Sunil Narine and Lakshmipathy Balaji.

Pune Warriors: Aaron Finch (captain), Robin Uthappa, Yuvraj Singh, Mitchell Marsh, Angelo Mathews, Mahesh Rawat, Udit Birla, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Wayne Parnell, Krishnakant Upadyay and Rahul Sharma.

Umpires: Asad Rauf and Sudhir Asnani. TV: Simon Taufel.

Match Referee: Javagal Srinath.

Match starts: 8pm