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Homecoming of the Knights

Calcutta: If home is where the heart is, the Kolkata Knight Riders would certainly cherish reaching their base after more than a month into IPL VII.

For Gautam Gambhir’s men, the days spent away from home have produced mixed results. They have though peaked as the tournament nears the business end and have taken a step closer to making the play-offs with four wins on the trot.

The Knights landed in the city late on Monday evening and had no opportunity to have a look at the Eden Gardens wicket. Gambhir prefers the traditional low and slow wicket here as he believes it suits his bowlers.

There’s no reason to feel that the Eden will offer something different to Gambhir and Co. this time. The Knights have three matches left in the league stage and, with the Royal Challengers Bangalore breathing down their neck, they can’t afford to relax.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings are their opponents on Tuesday, and the Knight Riders’ record against them is hardly encouraging. Of the 13 times they have met in the IPL, the Super Kings have a 9-4 record in their favour. At the Eden, Dhoni and Co. enjoy a 4-1 advantage.

The most encouraging sign for the Knight Riders has been the way they have performed as a unit. Be it their batsmen or the bowlers, they have complemented each other’s efforts nicely.

If the top-order has been more or less consistent, the middle-order has also lived up to the challenge as was evident during Sunday’s encounter against Sunrisers Hyderabad. The way Yusuf Pathan and Ryan ten Doeschate forged together an unbroken partnership at a crucial time to take them home bodes well for the team.

The return to form of Pathan will be encouraging for the Knights. He brings together a subtle mix of defensive and aggressive qualities to the middle and can always tear to shreds any attack if the situation demands.

The Knights’ bowling has suited the conditions, and their ploy to play three spinners has paid off well. Sunil Narine has been his usual self with the batsmen struggling to read his variations.

If the off-spinner has choked the runs at one end, Piyush Chawla has benefited picking up wickets at the other end. A leg-spinner is always handy in this format and his success has added a new dimension to their attack.

It remains to be seen how they fare against the Super Kings, whose batsmen have looked in fine fettle. The opening pair of Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum has been among runs and contributed close to half of the runs scored by the team this season. Add to it, the presence of Suresh Raina and David Hussey, not to mention of Dhoni himself.

The Super Kings limited themselves to swimming and gym sessions after landing in the city in the afternoon from Ranchi. Having been among the top two teams in the standings since the second week of the tournament, they suffered a minor hiccup when they lost to the Royal Challengers Bangalore on Sunday.

If the Knights’ spinners have had great success, equally impressive has been the Super Kings’ trio of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Samuel Badree. The team that handles the spinners better is more likely to enjoy an advantage going into the match.

Four of Knights’ six victories this season have come while chasing targets. How they fare if made to set a target could be of prime importance in deciding the outcome.

Six of the eight IPL matches played at the Eden last season were won by the team chasing. The average first-innings total in those eight matches was 148.

TEAMS

Kolkata Knight Riders (likely): Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan, Shakib-al Hasan, Ryan ten Doeschate, Suryakumar Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Morne Morkel, Umesh Yadav, Sunil Narine.

Chennai Super Kings (likely): Dwayne Smith, Brendon McCullum, Suresh Raina, David Hussey, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Mithun Manhas, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishwar Pandey, Mohit Sharma, Samuel Badree.

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

Match Referee: Javagal Srinath.

Match starts: 8 pm