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KKR to go all out for a top-2 finish

Pathan brothers Yusuf and Irfan in the city, on Friday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh

Calcutta: Sunrisers Hyderabad didn’t play on Friday, but they still won a ‘life’ when the Kings XI Punjab defeated Rajasthan Royals in Mohali.

For the Sunrisers, hope will be the name of the game when they take on the Kolkata Knight Riders, at the Eden, on Saturday. Along with the Rajasthan Royals and the Mumbai Indians, they are in a three-way fight for the fourth play-offs spot.

For the Knights, it’s a little different, it’s all about finishing in the top two.

To speak of the Knights, one can use this quote: “…It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

That’s what Rocky Balboa said in the sixth and final film in the Rocky series. And that’s what Gautam Gambhir can proudly say to his boys after making one of the most stunning comebacks in the history of IPL.

Gambhir is no Sylvester Stallone if you go by the size of muscles, but if you count the knock-out punches that the Knights have landed on the so-called mightier teams and respect the incredible success that they have achieved being the underdogs, the chief Knight has been a real hero.

There’s no harm in going a little overboard, mixing the fictional world with the spices of reality in the melting pot of sport, which in itself merges so many colours of life. The rise and fall of teams and heroes trigger unexplained emotions in millions.

So the Knights’ last league match of IPL VII will be all about ‘moving forward’.

For the Knights, who occupy the third spot in the points table, the fight at the moment is about finishing in the top two. That would earn them a ticket for Qualifier 1, which guarantees the winner a spot in the June 1 final.

Having taken all the initial reverses in their stride, the Knights have already emerged ‘winners’ having secured a play-offs berth with no less than six wins on the trot.

Who would have thought that after the players’ auction in February when the common inference was that the Knights had forged an ill-balanced team?

Who would have thought that when captain Gambhir, considered the mainstay of Knights’ batting, scored 0,0,0,1 in his first four innings of IPL VII?

Who would have thought that when the critics sported the ‘I-told-you-so’ smile after the Knights suffered four consecutive losses?

Motivation will not be an issue for the Knights. They know the importance of finishing in the top two. Not only does it provide a shorter route to the final, it is also to be remembered that Qualifier 1 will be played at the Eden.

If Gambhir’s boys earn a top-two finish, they will have the almost 70,000-strong Colosseum of Eden rooting for them. Tough tasks often become easier when you are cheered by thousands, the rising decibels of support are often directly proportional to better performances.

Going by form, there’s no reason why the Knights can’t make it seven in a row on Saturday. Sunrisers though aren’t a bad team, they have just been inconsistent. However, with back-to-back victories over the Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Chennai Super Kings, the Sunrisers seem to have woken up from their slumber

In the first-leg encounter between the two teams, the Knights had prevailed.

It’s needless to say that Robin Uthappa and Sunil Narine will attract much of the attention. The way Uthappa has single-handedly bailed out the Knights with his broad bat, many have nicknamed him Robin-hood. Some may even say he is as hot as the weather, he is certainly making the best of bowlers sweat.

And Narine has been going about his business in his usual silent, poker-faced style. Neither can anyone read his face, nor his bowling.

The Knights chose to rest on Friday. The Sunrisers too didn’t practice after landing in the city in the afternoon, but their trio of strategy-makers — Krishnamachari Srikkanth, VVS Laxman and Tom Moody — drove straight to the Eden from the airport to have a look at the pitch that would be used on Saturday.

Interestingly, it will be a ‘new’ pitch on Saturday, not the one on which the Knights played their first two games.

The wicket was trimmed of its grass cover in the evening. What was greenish during sunset turned almost brown under the floodlights.

With Dale Steyn and Bhuvneshwar Kumar on the opposition ranks, the Knights wouldn’t mind that.

One isn’t sure whether the law of averages will catch up with the Knights on Saturday, but even if it does and they lose, the fans needn’t worry, the Gambhirs know ‘how winning is done.

TEAMS

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

Sunrisers Hyderabad (likely): David Warner, Shikhar Dhawan, Naman Ojha, Aaron Finch., Darren Sammy, Y. Venugopal Rao, Irfan Pathan, Karn Sharma, Parvez Rasool, Dale Steyn, Bhuvneshwar Kumar

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

Match Referee: Javagal Srinath

Match starts: 8pm