|Gautam Gambhir, in Ahmedabad, on Sunday
Ahmedabad: In the last few days, the temperature here has soared to 43 degrees Centigrade. The met office has already issued a heat-wave warning, and it is supposed to get harsher in the next couple of weeks.
Expectedly, on Sunday afternoon, when Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) turned up at the Sardar Patel Stadium, there were not many fans around to watch them train.
The only onlookers were members of the local organising committee and a battery of policemen, who were already posted at the stadium for security reasons.
But then, KKR certainly do not have much time to bask in adulation. Having lost four of their six matches so far, the former champions are now placed fourth in the IPL VII table.
Monday’s game against Rajasthan Royals (RR) would be extremely crucial, as an adverse result can spoil their hopes of moving up the ladder.
KKR’s defeats in the last two matches, against RR and Chennai Super Kings (CSK), had a definite pattern. On both occasions, their batting suffered a sudden collapse to give their rivals the advantage. Against RR, Gautam Gambhir’s boys lost three crucial wickets in the final stage.
At Ranchi, against CSK, KKR lost three wickets in a span of five balls and it effectively ended their challenge.
KKR coach Trevor Bayliss was candid in his admission that it would be difficult for his team to achieve the desired result without improving their batting. “Batting is a concern… lack of runs in a problem,” said the Australian on Sunday, before the practice session. “We could do with some more runs… that would definitely be better,” he added with a shrug.
Bayliss, however, was quick to add that not everything was lost. “Two years ago, we had a slow start but we managed to come back by winning a series of matches. We still have a few more games in hand,” he pointed out.
The problem is that KKR are letting the advantage slip away even when they have a firm grip on a match. Against RR in the UAE, they could have garnered full points. But with the match being tied, then going into the Super Over, and finally being settled on ‘boundary count’, they lost.
The KKR coach said he had still not decided on the team combination for Monday, but given the fact there is grass on the wicket, the return of Morne Morkel could not be ruled out.
In fact, the Knights’ bowling, especially the performance of their two spinners – Sunil Narine and Shakib-al Hasan – had proved to be the bright spot in the otherwise gloomy 34-run defeat against CSK.
One thing is for sure, that Gambhir’s opening partner would once again be Robin Uthappa, who gave a good account of himself in Ranchi. In the net session, however, Gambhir, Jacques Kallis and Manish Pandey came out to bat before the others. However, Bayliss said Uthappa was going to open.
In contrast, Rajasthan Royals have arrived here to play their “home” matches on a high. After snatching victory from the jaws of defeat against KKR in the UAE, RR returned home with a bang, as they inflicted a seven-wicket defeat on Delhi DareDevils at the Kotla. The RR top order is playing cofidently, with young Karun Nair being the latest addition with a 50-ball 73 against the Delhi team.
Last season, RR, then led by Rahul Dravid, were invincible at Jaipur.
They virtually turned the Sawai Man Singh Stadium into a fortress and defeated every top side. This time, their “home” games have been shifted to Ahmedabad.
Dravid, now a mentor, said he was confident of repeating the same feat at the Sardar Patel Stadium. On Sunday, the Royals’ reserves held a training session at the stadium.
“We really had a good time in Jaipur… Ahmedabad certainly will be different, but we hope to have an equally good time there, too. I myself have played a lot of cricket there. Hopefully, we will have ‘two nice homes’ now,” Dravid had said in New Delhi recently.
The organisers, however, are not too sure about spectators’ interest. “After all, they are not exactly the home side though they played some matches here in 2010,” said an official.
“So far, ticket sales through the counter have been moderate. But we expect to do good business through online sales. That could fetch a good crowd,” he added.
Rajasthan Royals (likely): Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Sanju Samson, Rajat Bhatia, Shane Watson, Stuart Binny, Steven Smith, James Faulkner, Dhawal Kulkarni, Kane Richardson and Pravin Tambe.
Kolkata Knight Riders (likely): Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Jacques Kallis, Manish Pandey, Shakib-al Hasan, Suryakumar Yadav, Yusuf Pathan, Morne Morkel, Piyush Chawla, Vinay Kumar and Sunil Narine.
Umpires: Nigel Llong and Anil Chaudhary; TV: CK Nandan
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle