Impressive RCB take on Knight Riders

Impressive RCB take on Knight Riders

It is debatable if the 2009 runners-up will harbour similar thoughts going into Saturday’s contest against the Kolkata Knight Riders, given that they are sitting on a six-match winning streak.

Since that non-event against the Rajasthan Royals on April 19, the Challengers have been on a roll. Massively fortified by the arrival of the giant figure -- in every sense of the word -- of Chris Gayle, they have equalled the longest winning run in IPL history, and will quietly fancy their chances of reaching seventh heaven even if they will again be without regular skipper Daniel Vettori.

Battling a knee injury that kept him out of the commanding nine-wicket win in Jaipur over the Royals on Wednesday, the Kiwi has temporarily left for home, but if all goes well, should be back to spearhead his team’s campaign in the play-offs, what with the Challengers having already got a foot and a half in the door.

Vettori’s ill-luck has paved the way for Virat Kohli to step in and reiterate his captaincy credentials. The former India under-19 World Cup-winning skipper impressed with his composure and maturity whilst leading a star international cast in Jaipur, and Saturday will offer him another opportunity to show off his leadership skills at a venue that now is home away from home for the 22-year-old from Delhi.

Despite things having gone swimmingly in the last few weeks, the Challengers will be wary of taking anything for granted, and especially against the dangerous Knights, a team full of explosive talent that hasn’t necessarily performed to potential.

To start with, the Challengers will have to make a forced change at the top of the batting tree. The timing of Tillakaratne Dilshan’s departure for England to guide the fortunes of the Sri Lankan team couldn’t have been more inopportune. The play-offs are imminent, and after a prolonged lean patch, the right-hander was just beginning to come into his own.

He and Gayle had formed a feared, fearsome opening tandem; the Challengers will now have to blood a new partner for Gayle, and hope that in the next few matches, Gayle and his new opening mate strike the same excellent rapport as the Jamaican and the Sri Lankan did.

The constant improvement within the Challengers’ ranks as IPL IV has progressed has been most heartening. Gayle’s towering deeds have tended to overshadow the collective show of strength, but there is no denying the remarkable lifting of fielding standards from the early days of the competition, when catches were put down regularly and runs gifted away with the largesse of millionaires.

The Knights’ has been a curious campaign during which they have struggled somewhat to match talent with output. Gautam Gambhir has an array of glittering riches at his disposal but not all those riches have sparkled consistently and in tandem, though the potential for mayhem that lurks within an explosive batting line-up can never be underestimated.

Former Challengers Jacques Kallis and Eoin Morgan -- the latter a massive disappointment in Bangalore -- might feel the need to prove a point or two while Yusuf Pathan could relish a return to the venue where, last December, he smashed Vettori’s New Zealand to smithereens in a spectacular run-chase.

Coming off a week-long break, the Knights have their own injury and fitness concerns.

Left-arm spinner Iqbal Abdulla, by a distance their most successful bowler this season, is battling an ankle injury, though all indications are that he will take the field on the morrow. High temperature kept Brett Lee away from practice in Kolkata for the last few days, and the cancellation of Friday’s session due to rains means even if he has recovered fully, he won’t have too much recent bowling under his belt.

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