Kolkata Knight Riders, who made news for all the wrong reasons during the first three seasons of the IPL, suddenly find themselves to be the most talked-about team this time. The only team which has not featured in the last-four stage even once, is top of the 10-team heap and many are betting on them to go the distance.
If the Knights have performed consistently thus far (three wins in four matches), Kochi Tuskers Kerala – their next opponents at the Eden on Wednesday – have made everyone sit up and take notice with their giant-killing spree.
The Mahela Jayawardene-led side began their campaign with two defeats but since then, has shocked two of the strongest teams in IPL 4 — Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings — and will surely come hard at the Knight Riders.
The Knights, who play three matches back-to-back at home, began the week with a resounding win over Rajasthan Royals. Dav Whatmore’s boys will now be keen to log full points against the Tuskers on Wednesday as well as Royal Challengers Bangalore (Friday) to strengthen their chances of booking a semifinal berth.
The Knights, who suffered a 2-run loss in the opener against Chennai Super Kings, quickly learnt from their mistakes and look well settled, having got their team combination right. Batting is their strength, but their bowlers also came to the party on Sunday to dismiss Shane Warne’s side for a mere 81.
Despite the comfortable 8-wicket win two days ago, the team management has expressed concerns about the slow Eden track and forced the curator to shift Wednesday’s match to the adjacent pitch which has a light grass cover. Clearly, KKR don’t want to take a chance with the classy Jayawardene, who will fondly remember his unbeaten 110 at this venue last year which had helped his old team Kings XI Punjab chase down a daunting 200-run target.
Kochi’s other opener, former Knight Brendon McCullum, will also love to make his ‘homecoming’ in a memorable manner. McCullum, in his new colours, has already shown what he is capable of and a strong performance by the Kiwi-Lankan duo can take the match away from KKR. Kochi’s fortunes will, in fact, depend a lot on how McCullum and Jayawardene fare on Wednesday.
Kochi’s bowling, though, is an area of concern, with new-ball bowlers RP Singh and R Vinay Kumar looking ordinary. Unless they pull up their socks, it will be quite a task containing the likes of the in-form Jacques Kallis, Gautam Gambhir and Manoj Tiwary.
Despite being in good form, Knight Riders will be aware of the Kochi threat as they look to hang on to pole position. The Tuskers, on the other hand, will be eager to catch up with them (on 6 points) with another prized scalp.