The two teams set to contest Friday’s blockbuster at the Eden Gardens have made contrasting starts to their campaign in IPL 5. While the Gautam Gambhir-led Kolkata made a disappointing start, losing two matches on the trot before registering their maiden win in Bangalore on Tuesday, Rahul Dravid-led Rajasthan began with two convincing wins before faltering against Mumbai on Wednesday night.
Kolkata, boosted by their 42-run win over Bangalore, will be approaching Friday’s home game against Rajasthan with a lot of confidence and looking to avenge their second-round loss, while Dravid’s relatively inexperienced side will take heart from the fact that they ran Mumbai close in a high-scoring match at the Wankhede Stadium.
The momentum will be with the star-studded Kolkata side, but the home team will be a touch wary about their batting line-up, which has been anything but consistent in the three games so far. Their top-order failed miserably in the first two games — against Delhi and Rajasthan — resulting in humiliating losses, while their middle and lower order fell apart against Bangalore after their top-three had laid the foundation for a 200-plus total.
A clinical display by their bowlers, led by the affable Lakshmipathy Balaji (4-18), ensured that the 165-8 they had put on board was more than enough in the final analysis, but the fact they imploded spectacularly — losing the last seven wickets for 40 runs in the space of 6.3 overs — will not be lost on new coach Trevor Bayliss.
Gambhir, who returned to form with a 39-ball 64, will also be pleased with Manvinder Bisla’s sparkling stroke play that saw the wicketkeeper-batsman make a quick fire 29-ball 46, but the Kolkata skipper will be hoping that his team comes good as a whole.
Dravid will be pleased with Owais Shah, Ajinkya Rahane and Ashok Menaria’s form with the bat. It was largely due to the trio’s heroics that kept Jaipur in the game till the 15th over after Mumbai had piled up 197-6. Rahane (138 runs from 3 matches) and Shah (113 runs) are also the top two run-getters in IPL 5 so far.
However, the Rajasthan captain will be worried about his side’s bowling that was put to the sword by Mumbai’s Kieron Pollard and Ambati Rayudu. Kolkata’s explosive stroke-makers like Gambhir, Kallis, Manoj Tiwary and Yusuf Pathan may find Rajasthan’s inexperienced attack to their liking on a ‘home-made’ pitch — weather permitting. The champions of the inaugural IPL season need to strike early, as they did at the Sawai Man Singh Stadium against Kolkata, to put the hosts under pressure.
West Indian Kevon Cooper, who has so far come handy with both ball and bat in his maiden IPL season, can pose problems for Kolkata on Friday night too. Veteran spinner Brad Hogg showed on Wednesday that he can still surprise a few with his heady mix of chinamen and left-arm orthodox stuff, and it will be interesting to see how the Kolkata batsmen play him on a slowish Eden track.
Kolkata made a number of changes in their last match, and it worked for them. Balaji signalled his return to form with a sizzling spell against Bangalore. He must now look to exorcise the ghost of last season when he went for 21 runs in the last over against Mumbai at the Eden that scuppered Kolkata’s chances of finishing second in the league table.
The inclusion of Bangladesh left-arm spinner Shakib Al Hasan has added variety to Kolkata’s bowling that is spearheaded by fiery Australian pacer Brett Lee.
It will also be a nostalgic moment for Dravid, who will be seen in action at the Eden for the first time after his retirement from international cricket. Kolkata fans, however, will be hoping that he does not repeat one of the many heroic knocks he has played at this venue.