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Gunning for final spot with an eye on the sky

- Record favours Mumbai Indians, but momentum is with KKR

Umesh Yadav and Gautam Gambhir

Calcutta: One task done, over to the next. The Kolkata Knight Riders will face the Mumbai Indians in Qualifier 2, in Bangalore, on Friday for a place in IPL X final.

To reach Qualifier 2, the Knight Riders had to face a bizarre situation, when rain threatened to knock them out before they were given an opportunity, well past midnight, to chase a curtailed target.

Captain Gautam Gambhir led his team to victory after they looked wobbly losing three wickets.

Gambhir would give anything to avoid that kind of a situation again, but rain may return to haunt the Knight Riders as the venue for Qualifier 2 remains the same as Wednesday's Eliminator.

There's a forecast for rain on Friday night in Bangalore and no one really knows how that may help or jeopardise a team's chances.

With no reserve day on offer for the play-offs, a washout would see Mumbai Indians move to the final by virtue of having finished above the Knight Riders in the points table.

But for Gambhir, there's more than rain to be worried about. The Knight Riders lost both their matches against the Mumbai Indians in the round-robin league stage.

Not just that, history is firmly with the Mumbai Indians, who have won 15 of the 20 matches they have played against the Knight Riders in all these years. On that front, Rohit Sharma's team would definitely have an advantage over Gambhir's men.

Momentum though is with the Gambhirs.

Mumbai Indians, the table-toppers, have their own problems though. Though they have been remarkably consistent this season, the defeat to Rising Pune Supergiant in Qualifier 1 must have left a scar on their confidence. The Knight Riders will hope to cash in on that.

The Knight Riders will take hope from the fact that their bowlers put up a splendid display against the Sunrisers on Wednesday.

Be it the pacers or the spinners, they were right on the ball, allowing opposition batsmen almost no space to play the big shots which are so necessary in the shortest format of the game.

The pitch at the Chinnaswamy helped the Knight Riders bowlers in their endeavour. While Sunil Narine was almost unplayable, Piyush Chawla was not far behind. Narine got sharp turn, used the bounce intelligently and never really erred in line. Chawla chipped in with his bit, getting the prized wicket of David Warner.

Even greater praise will be for the Knight Riders pacers - Nathan Coulter-Nile, Umesh Yadav and Trent Boult. Used cleverly by captain Gambhir, they were accuracy personified. A similar display will stifle the Mumbai Indians batsmen as well.

Given how the Chinnaswamy pitch has played this season, chances are that the bowlers will play a bigger role on Friday than the batsmen.

Knight Riders could consider opening the bowling with Narine. Lendl Simmons, his Trinidad and Tobago teammate, has fallen to him once previously and has scored just five off nine balls he faced.

Parthiv Patel has also been unable to break free against the offspinner, scoring 17 off 19. In comparison, Simmons and Parthiv have struck at 143.59 and 146.20 respectively, against pace this season.

The Knight Riders have a strong bowling line-up, but make no mistake, the Mumbai Indians are no pushovers. Not when they have bowlers like Harbhajan Singh, Mitchell McClenaghan, Lasith Malinga and Jasprit Bumrah. Even Hardik Pandya could turn out to be a dark horse with the ball.

Harbhajan was kept out of the XI by Rohit in Qualifier 1. But on Friday, the experienced spinner is likely to come back into the team, for he could be the ideal man to exploit the Chinnaswamy pitch.

Batting-wise, both the teams are well-matched on paper. The Knight Riders will hope to get an explosive opening from Chris Lynn and his possible partner Narine. It is also high time that Yusuf Pathan gets some runs in the middle order.

Knight Riders' batsmen have scored the most runs in the Powerplay among all the teams, partly because of the belligerence of Lynn (187.74) and Narine (178.33).

The Mumbai Indians, on the other hand, will wish that captain Rohit plays one of his signature knocks.

Kieron Pollard's power-hitting could also come to good use on a pitch that will favour the bowlers.

So the stage is set for a cracker of a match, unless of course the heavens open up and ruin everything.

TEAMS

Mumbai Indians (likely): Parthiv Patel, Lendl Simmons, Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu, Kieron Pollard, Krunal Pandya/ Karn Sharma, Hardik Pandya, Harbhajan Singh, Mitchell McClenaghan, Lasith Malinga, Jasprit Bumrah

Kolkata Knight Riders (likely): Sunil Narine, Chris Lynn, Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa, Yusuf Pathan, Suryakumar Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Umesh Yadav, Trent Boult


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