Tuskers hope to stop Gayle force

Kerala up against mighty Challengers

Tuskers hope to stop Gayle force

Add the thunderous presence of Chris Gayle to the mix, and it will be hard not to rate the Bangalore outfit the overwhelming favourites at the Chinnaswamy stadium. But form and past performances count for precious little in a format like T20, as the Tuskers have shown while carving out wins against strong favourites Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders over the last fortnight.

Tough they haven’t clicked often as a unit in IPL IV, the Kochi team has a set of players who can tilt any match in their favour and they have a matching desire to topple stronger opponents. It’s against that unpredictable nature of Kochi that the Royal Challengers will have to be on their guard on the morrow, and counting them as easy meat will only bring disastrous consequences.

Having said that, the Royal Challengers have shown enough pragmatism to stay focused on their job so far and they have looked an unstoppable force since the arrival of Gayle. The big Jamaican has amassed 284 runs from four matches at an astonishing strike-rate of 197.22. Gayle is also within touching distance of Virat Kohli, the highest run-getter for RCB with 321 runs from eight matches.

Those numbers are enough to reveal the impact Gayle has made on the fortunes of the Royal Challengers, but they also reveal the need for other top-order batsmen to come good sooner than later. AB de Villiers, with 215 runs from eight matches at 43, has not made a consistent impact while newly-appointed Sri Lankan skipper Tillakaratne Dilshan has been as effective as a pile of drenched gunpowder. The right-hander will be keen to register a substantial score against his name before leaving to fulfil national duties next week, and the match against Tuskers will give him another chance to make amends for his modest run.

Down the order, Saurabh Tiwary and Cheteshwar Pujara -- left out for the last few games -- too have done little to inspire confidence as the brittleness of the middle-order remains an issue to be addressed.  Kochi have the ammunition to exploit that particular weakness as they have a handy attack in S Sreesanth, Rudra Pratap Singh, Prashanth Parameswaran and off-spin legend Muttiah Muralitharan, should he play.

The explosiveness of Gayle and the calm assurance of Kohli have carried the Royal Challengers batting admirably thus far, but it will be naive to expect them to fire in all matches. So it’s imperative for the youngsters to find their range as the tournament approaches its business end.

Similarly, the Royal Challengers’ bowling too has looked a bit flat with spearhead Zaheer Khan sparkling only in patches. Zaheer will be the first to admit a dip in his performance, but he is experienced and skilled enough to recapture his rhythm soon. If he manages that, then Daniel Vettori will have more breathing space as the left-arm spinner has been RCB’s best bowler so far in the event.

The RCB skipper has been his frugal self, having an impressive economy rate of 5.58, second overall only to Pune Warriors’ Rahul Sharma (5.27). The figure reflects Vettori’s contribution in tying down the opposition in the middle overs and it’s time for the Bangalroeans to check the run flow in the Power Plays and end overs. It assumes important because the Tuskers have an aggressive batsman like Brendon McCullum up front and an in-form Ravindra Jadeja down the order, and it will be unwise to allow them any leeway.

Despite those little pockets of concerns, however, Royal Challengers seem set to maintain the momentum.

Teams:

Royal Challengers Bangalore: Daniel Vettori (capt), Virat Kohli, Zaheer Khan, Tillakaratne Dilshan, AB de Villiers, Saurabh Tiwary, A Mithun, Chris Gayle, Cheteswar Pujara, Mohd Kaif, Charl Langeveldt, Nuwan Pradeep, Johan van der Wath, Jonathan Vandiar, Arun Karthik, CM Gautam, Syed Jamaluddin, S Arvind, Ryan Ninan, Asad Pathan, Rile Roussouw, Luke Pomersbach, Mayank Agarwal, Abrar Kazi, Bhareth Narayann.

Kochi Tuskers Kerala: Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Muttiah Muralitharan, VVS Laxman, S Sreesanth, Parthiv Patel, Ravindra Jadeja, Ramesh Powar, R Vinay Kumar, Brendon McCullum, Thisara Perera, Brad Hodge, Michael Klinger, John Hastings, Owais Shah, Steve O’Kefe, B Akhil, Chandan Madan, Deepak Chougule, Kedar Jadhav, Raiphi Vincent Gomez, Sushant Marathe, Tanmay Srivastava, Y Gnaneshwara Rao, Yashpal Singh, Prashanth Padmanabhan, Prasanth Parameswaran.

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