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A battle of survival for the strugglers

New Delhi: The best way to put it, perhaps, is to say that it’s the ‘curious case of the Kolkata Knight Riders’. And that specifically involves their batting.

On the eve of their match against the Delhi DareDevils, at the Kotla, if you say that their batsmen are out of form, it would be true, especially after they lost six wickets for just two runs against the Rajasthan Royals.

But it’s also a fact that their openers, captain Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa shared a 121-run opening partnership on Monday. If that is not good batting, what is?

While Gambhir started IPL VII with four consecutive failures, the likes of Jacques Kallis and Manish Pandey gave hope with mature innings. Now that Gambhir has found form, the Pandeys have suddenly embraced immaturity. It’s really a nothing situation.

Of course, there’s no point speaking about Yusuf Pathan. No one really understands his utility in the team. To say he is off-form wouldn’t be correct, because no one really remembers when was the last time that the all-rounder from Baroda was in form.

The 10-run defeat at the hands of the Royals was not really a crushing blow if one goes by the margin. But it was the way that the Knights collapsed, despite being in an advantageous position, that would worry them most. Psychologically, at least.

But as Gambhir said on Monday, they would have to “move on” and perhaps they can extract some confidence from that opening-wicket stand against the Royals.

Much of the onus would be on Gambhir to provide an upward push to his team’s sagging fortunes in the competition. Kotla is the left-hander’s home ground, where he has played several memorable innings. The Knights badly need one such knock from him.

Given the way the Kotla track behaved in the DareDevils versus the Chennai Super Kings match on Monday, the batsmen may play the key role on Wednesday as well.

The Kevin Pietersen-led DareDevils posted an impressive 178, but were easily upstaged by the Super Kings, who scored the required runs with the loss of only two wickets.

As the Delhi captain in the Ranji Trophy, Gambhir was unhappy with the preparations of the Kotla track and forced the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) to shift the team’s home matches to Roshanara Club ground. It created some controversy as Gambhir was involved in a war of words with Kotla curator Venkat Sundaram.

But the focus at the moment is not on the pitch, it’s on the Knights’ lacklustre show so far. They lost five of the seven matches they have played so far. Four of those defeats have been on the trot. If they harbour any hopes of advancing to the knock-out stage, they have to start winning, from Wednesday itself. After the loss to the Royals, Knights’ coach Trevor Bayliss said: “I just can’t explain itů It was a devastating defeat.”

The Knights, however, can take solace from the fact that the DareDevils, too, have had an equally unimpressive run in IPL VII so far. Like the Knights, they too have lost five of their seven games. DareDevils’ captain Kevin Pietersen is aware of the situation.

During a promotional on Tuesday, the former England skipper described the Knights as “wounded tigers” and said: “Just because someone is on a losing streak, it does not mean that we can sink someone at any time.”

Kallis may return to the Knights’ XI on Wednesday, replacing Andre Russell. On the DareDevils’ front, Rahul Shukla may come in place of Jaydev Unadkat.

Teams

Kolkata Knight Riders (likely): Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Jacques Kallis, Manish Pandey, Shakib-al Hasan, Yusuf Pathan, Ryan ten Doeschate, Suryakumar Yadav, Ranganath Vinay Kumar, Sunil Narine and Umesh Yadav.

Delhi DareDevils (likely): Quinton de Kock, Murali Vijay, Kevin Pietersen, Dinesh Karthik, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Jean-Paul Duminy, Kedar Jadhav, Wayne Parnell, Shahbaz Nadeem, Mohammed Shami and Rahul Shukla/Jaydev Unadkat.

Umpires: Bruce Oxenford and C. Shamshuddin. TV: Rajesh Deshpande

Match Referee: Javagal Srinath

Match starts: 4pm.