After slugging it out in the baking weather for little over a month, the time has come to land the crucial blow, exactly what Kings XI Punjab and Kolkata Knight Riders will be aiming to do as they seek to take a step closer towards glory.
With both teams having entered the IPL-7 Qualifier 1 in vastly contrasting styles, a mouth-watering contest is on the cards at the Eden Gardens.
However, weather could be a dampener for the heavyweight tussle with the skies opening up on Monday and more rain is predicted on the match day.
At half-way stage of the tournament, Punjab’s place in the knock-outs was assured with the George Bailey-led side displaying superb consistency.
However, the situation was just the opposite in KKR’s camp. With just two wins and five losses, the 2012 champions’ campaign seemed going nowhere before they staged a stunning revival, winning the next seven games on the trot that not only secured their Play-offs berth but has also earned them two cracks at the final.
Punjab, who have made it to the knock-outs for the first time since the inaugural edition in 2008, have been magnificent this season.
Having pieced together a talented bunch, Kings XI have shown plenty of desire, rarely taking their foot of the accelerator.
While Glenn Maxwell, who held the Orange Cap for most of the tournament before relinquishing it to KKR’s Robin Uthappa, led the batting assault with utter disdain during the initial part along with David Miller, and players like Manan Vohra and Shaun Marsh too have stepped up to the challenge when offered chances.
With Virender Sehwag giving them a decent start at the top, their batting looks robust, capable of setting and chasing down any total.
Their bowling too deserves some praise with youngster left-arm spinner Akshar Patel and pacer Sandeep Sharma drawing special attention.
With the seasoned Lakshmipathy Balajai and fiery Mitchell Johnson in their ranks, they have the ammunition to rattle any side.
KKR will be banking heavily upon the opening duo of Robin Uthappa and Gautam Gambir. Ever since his elevation to the top, Uthappa has been in scorching form, a success that has had telling result on the team’s fortunes.
Gambhir, following a disastrous start to the tournament where he drew three blanks on the trot, has slowly started to regain his form and that confidence seems to have rubbed onto his captaincy as well.
The most heartening thing for KKR, however, is the return to form of the destructive Yusuf Pathan.
Criticised heavily for his poor form, the Baroda man has found his bearing at the most crucial juncture, slamming IPL’s fastest fifty en route a 22-ball 72 in their final league match against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
In the bowling department, they have the parsimonious Sunil Narine, whose contest with Maxwell could be one of the interesting subplots in the game, Morne Morkel and Vinay Kumar. With all-rounder Shakib-al-Hasan too contributing well, KKR will be hoping to keep the big-hitters in Punjab under check.
What makes the contest between the two well-matched sides interesting is that KKR are one of the two sides apart from Mumbai Indians who have defeated Punjab this season.
While for most part of the tournament it would’ve been safe to place money on Punjab, Kolkata’s second-half resurgence, home comfort and previous taste of glory give them a slight edge.