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Knight Riders on mission MI

Morne Morkel, in Cuttack, on Tuesday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh

Calcutta/Cuttack: Having recorded a morale-boosting victory against Kings XI Punjab in their last match, the Kolkata Knight Riders know well that they need to maintain the momentum to harbour hopes of making the playoffs.

As the former champions take on the defending champions, at the Barabati Stadium, in Cuttack, Gautam Gambhir’s men will enjoy the advantage of having played a match at the venue and knowing the conditions better. In fact, George Bailey had credited the Knight Riders’ nine-wicket victory to their having read and used the conditions better.

The two teams had met in the opener of the IPL VII in Abu Dhabi, with Knight Riders prevailing by a whopping 41 runs, and it has been a mixed fortune for both since.

In the nine matches each have played so far, both haven’t played to the potential. The Knight Riders (four wins from nine matches) are slightly better placed than their opponents who have only six points from three wins.

The one common factor in Knight Riders’ wins in their last two matches against the Delhi DareDevils and the Kings XI has been the performance of the openers. Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa set up a platform on both the occasions and collectively contributed 225 runs.

The openers’ good starts have gone a long way in arresting the Knight Riders’ slide. Not once did they allow Kings XI to bounce back in their last match.

The asking rate at the start of the innings was 7.50, but by the end of the seventh over, when the openers were separated, it had dropped to 6.30.

Uthappa was hit on his left leg while batting at nets on the eve of the match. He was attended to by the physio and is expected to be fit for the match.

While the middle-order has stuck to their task, the bowlers have complemented the batsmen’s efforts. Be it Morne Morkel, Piyush Chawla or Shakib-al Hasan, all have contributed to the team’s cause.

There haven’t been too many teams who have stood up and competed against Kings XI this season. Knight Riders have done it twice in two matches.

In their last encounter here, the bowlers implemented proper plans after putting Kings XI into bat, and tightened the screws in the final five overs conceding just 33.

Knight Riders’ decision to include Morkel and Piyush Chawla in the playing XI paid dividends as they picked five wickets for 49 runs in eight overs between them.

While leg-spinner Chawla (3/19) bowled brilliantly in the middle overs, pacer Morkel (2/20) did his job to perfection. With off spinner Sunil Narine around, the Mumbai Indians would definitely be wary of the Knight Riders’ bowling unit.

Mumbai Indians will be glad they’ve found an in-form opener in Lendl Simmons. The Trinidadian scored 68 and powered their run-chase against Sunrisers Hyderabad. Apart from Simmons, their batting fortunes largely depend on Ambati Rayudu (who has scored half-centuries in his last two innings), skipper Rohit Sharma and Kieron Pollard.

Simmons and Rayudu set up the seven-wicket win against the Sunrisers. But Mumbai Indians have failed to click as a unit. Their bowling has lacked penetration, though Lasith Malinga and Harbhajan Singh have lived up to their stellar reputation. The form of Pragyan Ojha and the fifth bowler’s quota of four overs is a concern for coach John Wright.

History indicates that the Mumbai Indians have a stranglehold over the Knight Riders. The two teams have met on 13 occasions, with the Mumbai side having prevailed in 10 of those matches.

Match starts: 8 pm