Hyderabad: The three back-to-back victories have definitely brought a breath of fresh air in the Kolkata Knight Riders camp. Very much in the run for a place in the play-offs, Gautam Gambhir’s boys are now a hugely confident lot.
And, on Saturday evening, it was evident in their body language.
When Knight Riders walked into the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, their Sunday’s rivals — Sunrisers Hyderabad — were already at the nets. With Shikhar Dhawan facing a couple of local bowers, lofty hard hits and sixes were raining all over the ground.
None in the Knight Riders looked amused by Dhawan’s aggression that had people scurrying for cover.
They watched the left-hander’s hammerings for a couple of minutes and then immediately got down for a game of football in one corner of the ground. While everyone looked relaxed, leading stars like Gambhir, Shakib-al Hasan and Yusuf Pathan were in a jovial mood.
The confidence of Knight Riders was understandable. Facing the danger of elimination midway through the tournament, the team have certainly hit back in style. There was a time when Knight Riders were heavily dependent on their bowlers, while their batsmen failed repeatedly. That has changed since their opening pair of Robin Uthappa and Gambhir found their match-winning form in the last few matches.
Yet, a defeat against Sunrisers could change the equations. With three teams at the top — Kings XI Punjab, Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals — doing well, Knight Riders are at the fourth place with 10 points. Snapping at their heals are Sunrisers, who have eight points. Defeats in the last two matches have upset Sunrisers’ calculations, but a victory on Sunday would get them back in contention.
Knight Riders, too, are aware of the circumstances. Their coach Trevor Bayliss started his interaction with the media on Saturday by stressing on how important the match would be. “Sunrisers are a good batting and bowling side... They have the right balance. I believe it is going to be a good contest between the ball and the bat,” said the Australian coach.
The wicket at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, like in most T20 matches, would back the batsmen, which was admitted by Bayliss and they are depending a lot on their opening pair. Under the watchful eyes of their coach, the duo spent a long time at nets. Bayliss also spent some time with Shakib, who batted for more than 20 minutes. Interestingly, Manvinder Singh Bisla batted ahead of Yusuf Pathan and spent considerable time at nets.
Despite the jolts in the last couple of matches, Sunrisers have a formidable batting strength. While captain Dhawan can demolish any bowling attack on his day, Aaron Finch and David Warner also have the ability to change the course of a tie. In the previous match, they got past the 200-run mark only to surrender to the batting might of Kings XI Punjab.
Knight Riders definitely hold the upper hand in bowling. While their spinners like Sunil Narine, Shakib and Piyush Chawla made the best use of a rather helpful Cuttack wicket in the last two matches, the form of Morne Morkel must have given Gambhir a big relief.
A few days before the start of the IPL VII, Gambhir described Morkel as one of the best bowlers in the world, who could be the game changer for the Knight Riders.
Though a batting wicket, the bowlers here could get encouraged by the lively bounce. And if Dale Steyn manages to get his act together, it could well be a battle between Morkel and Steyn.
Sunrisers coach Tom Moody sounded a warning for Knight Riders. He called the South African a world-class bowler, who can return to form at any point in time. “Steyn did disappoint in the last match, but so did others,” said the Australian.
“He cannot be expected to lead the attack every time, but Steyn is a world-class bowler and known for making an impact in crunch matches,” said Moody with a smile.
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 and Sunil Narine.
Sunrisers Hyderabad (likely): Aaron Finch, Shikhar Dhawan, Naman Ojha, David Warner, Moises, Henriques, Irfan Pathan, Karn Sharma, Lokesh Rahul, Dale Steyn, Amit Mishra and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Umpires: Nigel Llong and CK Nandan. TV: Anil Chaudhary
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle