It is now or never for the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) as they enter the final four games of the preliminary stage, three of which will be at the Eden Gardens. The first of these is against a Punjab Kings (PBKS) team whose batting and bowling departments are operating at opposite levels of confidence. The state of the table reveals that a convincing win for KKR could see them leapfrog PBKS and return to the playoffs conversation. A defeat, though, would practically end their 2023 campaign for good.
In the reverse fixture this season, KKR were comprehensively outclassed by a stellar all-round display by PBKS at Mohali. Batting first, the hosts put 191 on the board, with Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Shikhar Dhawan leading the way. In pursuit, KKR never got going, as three wickets from Arshdeep Singh crippled their top order. Not even a characteristically fiery cameo from Andre Russell could save the day thereafter.
Before KKR and PBKS go at it again in IPL 2023, My Kolkata identifies the key battles that will separate the winners from the losers
Venkatesh Iyer versus Arshdeep Singh
Venkatesh Iyer will need to watch out against Arshdeep early on at EdenTT Archives
If KKR are to win this game, they will have to prevent Arshdeep from repeating his heroics from Mohali. This means that the KKR top order will need to be careful against the left-armer, while also putting away bad deliveries whenever possible. Coming in at number three, Iyer will receive the same memo, hoping to avoid a repetition of his dismissal from early April, when he held out to Rahul Chahar off Arshdeep after a conservatively paced 34.
Varun Chakravarthy versus Liam Livingstone
Varun Chakravarthy is KKR’s best option to contain the threat of Liam LivingstoneTT Archives
The ace smasher of PBKS is in his element, which should send the alarm bells ringing for KKR. Livingstone has been instrumental in PBKS’s last two outings and will be licking his lips at the prospect of clearing the modest boundaries at Eden. One way to stop him is to pack the leg-side field and make him play against the spin. To do this, KKR’s best option is Chakravarthy, who enjoyed a man-of-the-match performance in Hyderabad and could be the perfect antidote to Punjab’s X-factor with the bat.
Shardul Thakur versus Jitesh Sharma
Shardul Thakur will be geared up for a tough contest against Jitesh Sharma in the middle and death oversTT Archives
With 239 runs at a strike rate in excess of 165, Jitesh has been a revelation for Punjab this year. In what is expected to be a high-scoring encounter in Kolkata, his could well be the finishing touch that decides the game. At the other end, Thakur is bowling better than he has done all tournament and his bag of variations could put the lid on Jitesh, especially if it comes to a situation where the PBKS batter has to catch up to the asking rate. Conversely, should KKR get a few early wickets up front, Thakur’s deceptive pace may be more useful against Jitesh than any of the Knights’ other bowling options.