Challengers look to boost knock-out stage chances

Challengers look to boost knock-out stage chances

Challengers look to boost  knock-out stage chances

Having survived the Delhi Daredevils’ late surge by the proverbial skin of their teeth, Royal Challengers Bangalore will hope to get their game tighter against Kolkata Knight Riders in what will be the last of their away league matches in which their performance has been patchy to put it mildly.

When the Royal Challengers embarked upon their journey, having notched up six wins and all coming at home, a place in the play-offs appeared a mere formality. After three losses in five encounters on the road, however, the Virat Kohli-led side finds itself in a mad scrambling for a last-four berth. While it’s difficult to pin-point a particular reason for their poor result outside the Chinnaswamy Stadium, one major worrying factor has been their consistently inconsistent show with the ball.

It started with the game against the Mumbai Indians, who clobbered them for over 190 runs, and culminated into a heart-break against Kings XI Punjab, David Miller doing a Chris Gayle on them with a 38-ball century. In between they couldn’t defend a 170-plus total against Rajasthan Royals and survived a mighty scare from Robin Uthappa in Pune.

And on Friday night, Daredevils came perilously close to overhauling their massive 183. But for Murali Kartik, who stemmed the flow of runs with his frugal bowling, and Jaidev Unadkat, whose five-wicket haul helped them to a nervy four-run win, it could have been a different scenario for the Challengers. It remains to be seen if the left-arm seamer, who hurt his leg while fielding and bowled his last two overs in visible pain, takes the field on Sunday. 

Profligacy

Their profligacy with the ball, coupled with lack of intensity in the field, has added to their woes. That two of their away wins have come against the two bottom-placed teams is also worth pondering. At the Indian Premier League’s newest venue, the Jharkhand State Cricket Association’s stadium here, the Royal Challengers will face stiffer test against the Knight Riders, who managed to stay in contention with a win over bottom-scrapers Pune Warriors.

The defending champions, harbouring the thinnest of hopes of making the play-offs, haven’t been the same force they were the previous year but at the same time they haven’t been completely out of their depth. With every game a must-win for Gautam Gambhir’s outfit, it would be difficult for the Challengers to run roughshod over their rivals like they did in Bangalore at the start of the tournament.

On paper Kolkata have one of the most explosive batting line-ups with an equally effective bowling to back up but somehow they haven’t clicked as a unit for most of the tournament. Skipper Gambhir hasn’t been consistent at the top as has been Jacques Kallis whose bowling has been a saving grace for the South African veteran.
The two other influential batsmen in the side -- Yusuf Pathan and Manoj Tiwary -- have been largely off-colour while Manvinder Bisla has managed some useful knocks. The Royal Challengers’ bowlers, however, can’t afford to lax.

The Knight Riders’ bowling will face a big challenge from the visiting batsmen who have been in good form in the last four matches. That they have managed big totals with just one fifty from Gayle in their last five matches should keep them in good stead. The Kohli-AB de Villiers’ show against Daredevils, who leaked 84 runs in the last five overs, at the Ferozeshah Kotla will keep the ‘home’ bowlers on their toes. The unfamiliar nature of the surface, which has hosted just one one-day international early this year, will also add an interesting angle to the match.   

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