Kolkata: Their campaign in doldrums, Kolkata Knight Riders would be desperate to register a victory over a consistent Rajasthan Royals in the Pepsi IPL 6 on Friday in what's going to be the defending champions' last league fixture at the Eden Gardens. (Agencies)
Lopsided team selection, a flawed strategy coupled with a poor attitude have contributed to the team's dismal show this season, leading many to believe that last year's crown was nothing but a fluke.
Midway into the extravagant T20 League, when faltering teams like Delhi Daredevils have started to get their act together, the Knight Riders have refused to learn from the mistakes. The latest of their seven losses was against the resurgent Daredevils who registered their second successive win, third overall, by seven wickets at Raipur.
Apart from the toss, which he had once again called right, nothing seemed to have worked for Gambhir against Delhi. Half of the side was already inside the pavilion for 50 that included yet another suicidal run-out of Gambhir. Only some late spurt took KKR to a decent 136 for seven. Yusuf Pathan and South African legend Jacques Kallis once again let the team down. And it would be in the best interest of the team if T20 specialist, the under-utilised Brendon McCullum and Ryan ten Doeschate are finally brought into the playing XI, especially with Manoj Tiwary a doubtful starter.
For a team, which showed promise in their 201 chase against Chennai Super Kings before going down by 14 runs in the previous match, the meek surrender against the Daredevils might have just shattered their confidence. Defending a modest total, KKR were sloppy on the field, dropping two catches, while Manvinder Bisla missed a stumping chance to give life to David Warner, who came up with a match-winning knock of 66 out not.
It was Knight Riders' fifth defeat from as many away games. They now have an uphill task of winning six more matches if they want to earn a ticket to the playoffs. That they have three away games, including one in Mumbai, and two 'home' games (vs RCB and PWI) at an unfamiliar venue -- Ranchi -- will make the case all the more difficult, and it will be a real test of character for skipper Gambhir.
On the other hand, Rahul Dravid has led the side by example so far and backed his little-known judicious-spending team to perfection, reminding one of what Shane Warne did in their triumphant season one (2008). Chasing a massive 172 against Royal Challengers Bangalore, Dravid's decision to promote 18-year-old Sanju Samson to number three spot proved brilliant as the wicketkeeper-batsman came up with a knock of 63 runs in their four-wicket win in the last match.
Rajasthan's back-to-back victories have earned them 12 points from nine matches and they are comfortably placed at third position in the table. Shane Watson's red-hot form with the bat -- 101, unbeaten 98 and 41 in last three appearances -- is just coming at the right time. The Aussie vice-captain's contribution with the ball is also providing the team an edge. They also have big hitters in Brad Hodge and Owais Shah, while talented batsman Ajinkya Rahane will be hoping to get back to his rhythm.
James Faulkner, who claimed the first five-wicket haul of this season against Sunrisers Hyderabad, will look to carry the momentum, while lanky offspinner Ajit Chandila will hope to do a Sunil Narine on the slow Eden surface. Another key but under-rated player in their rank -- Stuart Binny -- who had come up with some cameo innings in the middle order playing the role of the finisher to perfection -- would also come in handy.
The fact that Dravid-led team had a three-day break after their victory against RCB will put them in the right frame of mind as compared to KKR, who travelled to Chennai and Raipur before coming.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (captain), Manvinder Bisla (wk), Yusuf Pathan, Jacques Kallis, Eoin Morgan, Debabrata Das, Rajat Bhatia, Sumit Narwal, Brett Lee, Sunil Narine, Laxmipathy Balaji, Brendon McCullum, Ryan ten Doeschate, Ryan McLaren, Brad Haddin, Manoj Tiwary, Iqbal Abdulla, Mohammad Shami Ahmed, Pradeep Sangwan, Sachithra Senanayake, Sarabjit Ladda and Paras Dogra
Rajasthan Royals: Rahul Dravid (captain), Ajinkya Rahane, Sanju Samson (wk), Shane Watson, Brad Hodge, Stuart Binny Owais Shah, James Faulkner, Ajit Chandila, Siddharth Trivedi, Sreesanth, Brad Hogg, Fidel Edwards, Kevon Cooper, Kushal Perera, Samuel Badree, Shaun Tait, Ankit Chavan, Ashok Maneria, Dishant Yagnik, Harmeet Singh, Kumar Borsea, Pravin Thambe, Rahul Shukla, Sachin Baby, Shreevats Goswami, Vikramjeet Malik
Kolkata: Their campaign in doldrums, Kolkata Knight Riders would be desperate to register a victory over a consistent Rajasthan Royals in the Pepsi IPL 6 on Friday in what's going to be the defending champions' last league fixture at the Eden Gardens.