Kolkata Knight Riders’ skipper Gautam Gambhir believes “once you have the winning momentum, you have to continue”.
Faultless logic, really. However, Gambhir would have doubtless realized after Wednesday’s match against the Kochi Tuskers that it is difficult to sustain the momentum if your batsmen lack patience on a wicket where the ball not only refuses to come on the bat, but also tends to keep low.
The six-run loss hasn’t hurt KKR too much, for they are still at the top of the heap. It has only dented their pride and exposed a few chinks in their armour. On the flip side, the home team can quickly regain lost ground when they take the field on Friday against Royal Challengers Bangalore, who have just three points from five matches and are languishing at the last-but-one spot in the league table.
Led by Daniel Vettori, the Challengers have punched way below their weight in IPL 4 despite having some big names and a relatively young side. Three losses in their first four games, followed by a wash-out against the Rajasthan Royals in Bangalore on Tuesday has pushed RCB into a corner. Their batting has not been up to the scratch, while their bowling and fielding has been well below par.
South African AB De Villiers has been among runs (157 runs in 4 matches), but their young turks, Virat Kohli, Saurabh Tiwary and Cheteshwar Pujara haven’t quite warmed up to the task. To add to their woes, the prolific Tillakaratne Dilshan appears to have lost his form post World Cup.
The new Sri Lanka captain, who air-dashed to Colombo to attend a selection panel meeting on Wednesday, rejoined his teammates hours after they had checked into the team hotel, and is expected to open the innings against KKR.
His opening partner could be Chris Gayle, who has been signed up by the RCB management, in a smart move. Technically, Gayle has been roped in to replace the injured Dirk Nannes, but picking an opening batsman in place of a fast bowler, RCB have actually sought to fill the void that will be left behind by the departure of Dilshan when he leaves for national duty.
The Royal Challengers will, however, be hoping that Dilshan would be able to set aside his national team concerns and fire with the bat in the next few games.
According to RCB sources, Gayle will be available for selection against his former team on Friday. The big-hitting Jamaican was a favourite with the KKR faithfuls during his three-year stint and the home team will be wary of his ability to explode on the big stage.
The former West Indies captain, who has chosen to put club (franchise) before his country, will be eager to make an early impression, and given the fact that he bats only in top gear, KKR’s bowlers will be up against it. Gayle, who is likely to replace Johan van der Wath in the playing XI, is also expected to shore up RCB’s wafer-thin bowling resources with his quickish off-breaks.
In Zaheer Khan and skipper Daniel Vettori, RCB have two wily practitioners of their art who can use the slowness of Eden track to their advantage. Zaheer has been their highest wicket-taker, though a touch expensive.
It remains to be seen whether KKR opt for a change of surface for Friday’s game that has a 4pm start, but it is unlikely that Gambhir will tinker much with the KKR line-up, unless, of course, Yusuf Pathan’s injured knee plays up.
Barring Rajat Bhatia, everyone else has chipped in with bat or ball and it is certainly not the time to panic. At least not yet. Batting depth remains KKR’s big strength, and it would be up to coach Dav Whatmore and skipper Gambhir to impress upon the batsmen the importance of pacing their innings. It could well be the difference between a win and a loss in what is likely to be another low-scoring affair.