The Telegraph
Tuesday , April 29 , 2014
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Batting a headache for Knight Riders today

- After four failures, it’s time for Gauti to fire
Sunil Narine

Calcutta: Two victories and two defeats — the balance sheet of the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) may not look too bad, apparently. But Gautam Gambhir and his men know that the team is struggling.

Had it not been for that outstanding catch by Chris Lynn against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), the chart might have read differently.

It’s time KKR woke up to the fact that they need to dig deep into their resources and come up with more convincing performances if they have to shine in IPL VII.

And as they take on Rajasthan Royals (RR), in Abu Dhabi, on Tuesday, Gambhir must be a worried man who knows he has to put some runs on board himself. A grand total of ‘one’ in four innings — Gambhir surely is not leading from the front. A turnaround is the need of the hour and that’s what KKR will be looking at.

KKR started their campaign in the best way possible, with a victory over defending champions Mumbai Indians. But since then, the team has not really come together as a unit.

The two-run last gasp victory against RCB could have well gone the other way. And in the losses against the Delhi DareDevils and the Kings XI Punjab (KXIP), the flaws in the armour have been more than apparent.

RR, too, go into the match with two wins and two losses under their belt. But their commanding six-wicket victory against the RCB on Saturday must have given a fillip to the confidence of their bowlers, and that would not augur well for the struggling KKR batting.

On paper, the 2012 champions have one of the strongest batting line-ups in this IPL season. But none of the KKR batsmen, with the possible exception of the veteran all-rounder Jacques Kallis and Manish Pandey, have shown consistency.

A real let down has been the form of Yusuf Pathan. Known for his big hitting, he has managed on 17 runs in the four matches.

But on Tuesday, against RR, Gambhir will depend a lot on West Indian spinner Sunil Narine, who has taken nine wickets so far.

Narine has proved to be a consistent performer, not only being economical but also striking when it matters. With their bowling maybe a tad better than RR, they would want to end the UAE leg of their campaign with a victory.

On the other hand, RR also started their campaign with a win, but then they lost two consecutive matches against KXIP and the Chennai Super Kings. The confidence-boosting win against RCB came when they needed it the most. The fact that captain Shane Watson has found his form with the bat and also picked up a wicket, will be a positive.

Both teams are on same points — four — but RR are placed third on the table, followed by KKR, as they have a better net run-rate.

RR, too, are not been having a great time with their openers. Abhishek Nayar and Ajinkya Rahane have failed to give a solid start to their innings so far.

But RR bowlers have been doing a good job of restricting their opponents and they have managed that without a real star among their midst. It would be interesting to see how the KKR batsmen find their way against this attack.

Pacer Kane Richardson and Rajat Bhatia have been consistent while leg-spinner Pravin Tambe scalped four in RR’s thrashing of RCB in their last match. KKR assistant coach Vijay Dahiya, however, tried to sound confident that Gambhir will strike form sooner than later. In the wake of his bad form, Gambhir had demoted himself to No. 3 in the last match.

But Dahiya said he would like to see him continue opening the innings. “Honestly, if you ask me, he is an opener and I would love to see him open the innings. The pressure will be there, but what if he comes after two quick wickets have fallen? He’d feel even more pressure,” he said.

According to Dahiya, the top-three batsmen should ideally bat out 15 overs. “In this format, 30-plus is as good as 50-plus. However, in close games, a 40-50 run knock goes a long way. In such situations, you need somebody to carry on for 20 overs and anchor the innings.

The top-three batsmen have to bat for 15 overs. That's something that hasn't happened so far for us.”