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Knight Riders are wary of the Maxwell factor

Gautam Gambhir during a practice session, in Cuttack, on Saturday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh

Calcutta/Cuttack: Glenn Maxwell has almost single-handedly turned IPL VII into a celebration of power hitting. Chris Gayle (especially, during last year’s tournament) is perhaps the only batsman who has made such an impact in the T20 event.

Not surprisingly, the Kolkata Knight Riders’ match against the Kings XI Punjab, at the Barabati Stadium, on Sunday, will hinge largely on the performance of Maxwell.

If the form of Maxwell and David Miller has kept the Knight Riders worried, the elements cast a spell of uncertainty over the match. It rained intermittently throughout Saturday and the forecast for Sunday spoke of scattered rainfall.

Courtesy Maxwell and Miller. KXIP have been on a roll. Barring the defeat at the hands of the Mumbai Indians — which was one of those bad days — KXIP have steamrolled every force that has come in their way. They’ve not only won matches, but they’ve won them convincingly too — just like they did against the Royal Challengers Bangalore in their last match on Friday.

The team returned to Bhubaneshwar in the afternoon and decided to stay indoors.

Knight Riders will take confidence from a resounding eight-wicket win over Delhi DareDevils. They broke their four-match losing streak at the Kotla and the victory meant that they remain in the hunt for a last-four berth in the league standings.

The Knight Riders are placed fourth in the standings and the KXIP’s victory on Friday has only made their task a bit easier.

KXIP have had almost all their batsmen among the runs. However, the bulk of the runs have come from Maxwell and Miller. Maxwell’s 460 have come at a strike-rate of 204.44, while Miller’s 284 runs have come at a rate of 168.04.

Maxwell and Miller have together consumed 41.8 percent of the balls faced by KXIP, and have contributed 54.4 percent of the runs scored. Sunil Narine’s battle with Maxwell and Miller could be the high point of the contest.

There have been several theories doing the rounds in a bid to stop the marauding Maxwell. Even the yorkers have been hoisted into the stands with Maxwell’s brand of switch-hitting. One way to stop him could be to vary the pace. Perhaps the Knight Riders could give it a thought!

Gambhir could even get Narine into the attack once Maxwell arrives at the crease. Morne Morkel’s express pace had undone Maxwell during their first meeting for just 15.

Not surprisingly has Mahendra Singh Dhoni compared Maxwell with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag. Even Sehwag felt Maxwell was more destructive than him or Gayle.

Among the KXIP’s bowlers, Sandeep Sharma has been the most impressive. The 20-year-old has made a mark with his ability to swing the ball both ways and has given KXIP early breakthroughs on many occasions.

In fact, his three-wicket haul had helped the KXIP win against Knight Riders in Abu Dhabi in a low-scoring affair. Knight Riders had restricted KXIP to 132 for nine, but still fell short of the target by 23 runs.

An incredible 85 per cent of Sandeep’s 13 wickets this season have been of top-order batsmen. He has dismissed seven openers and has picked up the wicket of the No. 3 batsman on four occasions.

The most encouraging aspect for the Knight Riders has been the return to form of their captain. Gambhir and Robin Uthappa have done well as a pair. In the last two innings they have opened, they have stitched together partnerships of 121 and 106.

They will be expected to come good once again if the Knight Riders are to harbour hopes of winning on Sunday.

Although they are faced with a daunting task, Knight Riders can take solace in the fact that their bowling has been the only one which has tasted success against Kings XI batting.

Moreover, they have a settled top order that has, for now, mitigated some of their batting problems. The team just needs their middle-order to wake up.

A loss to Kings XI may not hurt their chances much but a win could be a huge bonus.

Match starts: 4 pm