RCB hope to stay alive; Knights aim to seal deal

Kohli's men in a do-or-die situation

RCB hope to stay alive; Knights aim to seal deal

If one had written off Kolkata Knight Riders as title contenders in the ongoing IPL-7 after the former champions suffered five defeats in their first seven matches, it was perfectly understandable.

With skipper Gautam Gambhir desperately searching for runs, Knight Riders appeared a team in disarray. More than the number of losses, it was the manner of their performance that gave rise to doubts about their ability to regroup. A key strategic move -- promoting Robin Uthappa to opening slot -- and Gambhir’s return to form, however, have brought a dramatic turnaround in their fortunes.

While Gambhir’s own good run with the bat has had a positive effect on his captaincy and overall vibe in the team, Uthappa has reeled off scores of 47, 65, 47, 46, 80, 40, 67, ensuring a head-start for the Knight Riders in the last seven matches; be it while chasing or setting a target. That the last five of those innings have resulted in wins reflects the significance of his contribution.    

Their fifth straight win on Tuesday night against the mighty Chennai Super Kings has taken them to within striking distance of a berth in the play-offs. The Knight Riders, on 14 points from 12 matches, need just one win from their remaining two games, the first of which will be against Royal Challengers Bangalore here at the Eden Gardens on Thursday.

While Knight Riders’ camp is brimming with confidence, Royal Challengers’ hopes are hanging by a thin thread. Such has been the inconsistency of majority of teams this season that even after losing seven matches, Challengers, as do Sunrisers Hyderabad, still have an outside chance of sneaking through to the last four.

Virat Kohli’s men need to win their last two matches and hope that either Knight Riders or Rajasthan Royals remain on 14 points. After this they will have to hope that their net run-rate is better than any of the other contenders. It’s a too much of ifs-and-buts scenario but their immediate goal would be to finish the league on a respectable note, something they hadn’t seen coming given the makeup of the squad and the start they had in the UAE leg.

At various stages on Tuesday against Sunrisers, they did show their resilience. If Kohli, who returned to form with a sparkling half-century, helped resurrect their batting after another unconvincing start, the bowlers fought back well to provide a ray of hope after Sunrisers appeared to have sealed the game. If Chris Gayle’s indifferent form has denied Challengers the good starts, death bowling has cheated them of a couple of wins. 

It obviously will be immensely difficult to take a call on Gayle, who has been clearly out of his depth, but Rilee Rossouw can’t do any worse. The South African also provides a far better fielding option, something that has become crucial because Bangalore have quite a few in their playing 11 who need to be hidden.    
  
On the bowling front they have quite a few issues. Mitchell Starc’s form has taken a beating while the local pacers have been way too inconsistent in implementing their plans. While a call will be taken on Abu Nechim, who took a severe hit on his bowling hand on Tuesday, on the morning of the match, they might bring back home boy Ashok Dinda.

Knight Riders have few selection dilemmas. They seem to have hit upon a right combination so far as the core of the team is concerned while almost every replacement is paying off. At the sprawling, sweltering Eden, the hosts will start favourites but Challengers can play spoilers.

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