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KKR banking on the bowlers

- Gayle is expected to be back in action today

Calcutta: Going by a conservative analysis, one would classify Thursday’s Kolkata Knight Riders versus the Royal Challengers Bangalore IPL VII match, in Sharjah, as a probable clash between Gautam Gambhir’s bowlers and Virat Kohli’s batsmen.

But if one dives a little deeper, it would be interesting to note that the Knights’ batsmen and the Royal Challengers’ bowlers, too, have been quite impressive in their outings.

The Knights’ batting line-up was deemed to be one of the weakest ones in the competition. The common inference was that everything would depend on captain Gambhir and the experienced Jacques Kallis as far as scoring runs was concerned.

But in the two matches that they have played so far, Gambhir has scored two ducks. Kallis did well in the first match, hitting a 46-ball 72, but was out for zero in the second game. Yet, the Knights have managed 160-plus totals in both the matches. They won one and lost the second, but such totals on pitches which haven’t always been free-scoring is commendable. More often than not, a 160-plus total would turn out to be a match-winning one.

It’s young Manish Pandey who has done the bulk of the scoring for the Knights. His 64 in the first match and 48 in the second were the backbone of his team’s batting. Robin Uthappa, too, came good in the last match with a 41-ball 55. It just goes on to show that though the Knights’ bowling is undoubtedly their strength, their batsmen haven’t at all done badly and will be a key factor on Thursday as well.

Coming to the Royal Challengers, who boasts of batsmen like Kohli, Chris Gayle, Yuvraj Singh and AB de Villers, their bowling displays have been more than impressive.

In their first match, against the Delhi DareDevils, the likes of Mitchell Starc, Albie Morkel, Varun Aaron and above all, leggie Yuzvendra Chahal, bowled well and bowled economically. Had Ashok Dinda not given away 51 runs from his four overs, the DareDevils wouldn’t have been able to post a 140-plus total.

In their second game, against defending champions Mumbai Indians, the Royal Challengers bowlers did even better as the Mumbai side could manage just 115 for nine in their 20 overs. Chahal, once again, was a revelation, giving away just 17 runs and taking two wickets. Equally effective were Starc, Morkel and Johnson. Dinda, too, came back strongly to be the most economical bowler for his team in the match.

So it highlights the fact that the bowlers have played no less a part in the Royal Challengers’ two victories so far. The star power in their batting may have stolen the spotlight from the bowlers, but that has not affected their performance.

Therefore, besides being seen as a contest between the Knights’ bowlers and the batsmen, the fate Thursday’s match will also depend on what the Pandeys and the Chahals do on the field.

Knights, of course, will bank heavily on their bowling attack to rein in the Royal Challengers batsmen. Sunil Narine has shown that he retains every bit of his magic as the batsmen, big and small, have found the going tough against him. Morne Morkel did well before his countrymate JP Duminy spoiled his statistics in one over. Ranganath Vinay Kumar, Shakib-al Hasan and Kallis too have done decently with the ball.

The Royal Challengers may see the return of Gayle in Thursday’s match. The explosive opener missed the first two games with a sore back, but is expected to be back in action against the Knights. But even without Gayle, they have shown how extraordinarily strong their batting is. Not just the stars, the Knights will have to watch out for Parthiv Patel who has batted very sensibly so far.

The rivalry of both the teams goes back to the very beginning of the IPL when they had clashed in the very first match of the inaugural season. That game is etched in history for the superb century that had come from the then Knight Brendon McCullum. But in the fast and furious world of IPL, history doesn’t even enjoy the importance of the cheerleaders. It’s a new match on Thursday.