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Fight for spot in final

- Qualifier 1, at eden, to be played on reserve day if rain plays spoilsport
Kolkata Knight Riders captain Gautam Gambhir, who himself is in great form, will be hoping Yusuf Pathan does an encore on Tuesday

Calcutta: The last couple of days of the league stage have been a celebration of the power hitters. If Yusuf Pathan’s 72 off 22 balls propelled Kolkata Knight Riders to the No.2 spot upstaging Chennai Super Kings on net run-rate, Corey Anderson orchestrated Mumbai Indians’ amazing turnaround at the Wankhede, on Sunday.

No total can be considered safe under the circumstances. No team can afford to relax after setting a target, especially when the Qualifier 1 involves players like Pathan and Glenn Maxwell of Kings XI Punjab.

The elements, though, have threatened to play spoilsport. The rain robbed both teams of match-eve practice and there’s forecast for more rain on Tuesday. There’s provision for a reserve day — Wednesday — and in case a result isn’t possible, Kings XI Punjab will go through to the final by virtue of having finished in a higher position in the league table.

According to the playing conditions, “if the play-off match has started (at least one ball bowled) but not finished on the original day, it will be completed on the reserve day.”

Thankfully for both teams, the loser will get a second chance to take a shot at the final, by playing the Qualifier 2, at the Wankhede.

If the Knight Riders have been the in-form team with seven victories on the trot, Kings XI have been the most successful batting unit in IPL VII with 11 wins. Six times George Bailey’s men have scored 190 or more, and three of those scores came in successful chases. They are yet to lose a game batting second.

Batting first, they have failed to cross 150 only twice, both times against the Knight Riders, with the honours tied 1-1. Kings XI’s batsmen have struggled against the likes of Sunil Narine and Piyush Chawla; Morne Morkel’s express pace and bounce has been a constant worry for Maxwell.

The Australian has failed to replicate his form in the UAE leg once the tournament moved back home. His 233 runs at an average of 29.12 and a strike rate of 180.62 in India look ordinary in comparison to 300 runs at 60.00 and a strike rate of over 200 in the UAE.

“We’re very happy with the way we played against Kings XI in the last two matches… They are a very good batting unit, they can quite easily turn it around, we have to stay focused in what we’re doing,” said Knight Riders coach Trevor Bayliss. The Knight Riders’ performance graph has been on the upswing. Their team combination has been in keeping with the conditions and that worked to their advantage. Buoyed by a consistent opening partnership, the middle-order has responded superbly.

Be it Manish Pandey, Shakib-al Hasan or Yusuf, they have taken the responsibility and delivered in the most demanding situations. But Robin Uthappa’s form has been the real eye-opener since moving up the order.

With 613 runs, Uthappa’s the highest run getter and has been the epitome of consistency with nine successive 40-plus scores. More importantly, most of his runs have come through orthodox shots rather than the slog hits that go hand in hand with T20 cricket.

Yusuf’s destructive innings against the Sunrisers Hyderabad will certainly force Kings XI to reassess their attack. Recording the fastest half-century of IPL was proof enough that he’s still capable of running away with the match single-handedly.

No wonder then that the likes of Sandeep Sharma, who has been a potent new-ball bowler for Kings XI, will face a tough task. Mitchell Johnson hasn’t been in the best of forms, but the occasion might just enthuse him to excel.

But as Sanjay Bangar, the Kings XI coach, said, “past records don’t really indicate anything… The key will be not to think too far ahead.”

TEAMS

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

Kings XI Punjab (likely): Virender Sehwag, Manan Vohra, Glenn Maxwell, David Miller, George Bailey, Wriddhiman Saha, Akshar Patel, Mitchell Johnson, Rishi Dhawan, Sandeep Sharma, Parvinder Awana.

Umpires: Nigel Llong, S. Ravi. TV: C. Shamshuddin.

Match Referee: Roshan Mahanama.

Match starts: 8pm.