Knights look to corner the Kings

It's Punjab's batting might against Kolkata's bowling skills in the final at Chinnaswamy tonight

Knights look to corner the Kings

After 59 matches across two nations (considering the UAE as one country), the seventh edition of the Indian Premier League will culminate here at the M Chinnaswamy stadium, with two of the most consistent sides this season -- Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab -- fighting it out for the prized possession on Sunday night.

While for Kings XI it’s the maiden final appearance, Knight Riders, champions in 2012, will look to emulate Chennai Super Kings, the only team to have won the title twice.

Kings XI reaped the benefit of finishing on top of the league by outbatting Chennai Super Kings in Qualifier 2 after having lost Qualifier 1 to Knight Riders. Batting indeed has been Kings XI’s forte this year. That no team in the short history of IPL has managed to post a total upwards of 200 as many as four times in a single season typifies the willow might of Kings XI.

As if Glenn Maxwell (552 runs at an average of 36.80 and a strike rate of around 189) wasn’t enough, Virender Sehwag, who had been producing only teasers, unleashed the beast in him that took the wind out of Super Kings’ attack on Friday night in Mumbai. The right-hander’s 58-ball 122 (10x4, 6x6) evoked memories of vintage Sehwag and the innings is sure to have forced Knight Riders backroom staff working overtime to plot the opener’s early exit.

Knight Riders, however, will take confidence in the fact that their bowlers have managed to keep two of Kings XI’s most dangerous batsmen -- Sehwag and Maxwell -- largely quiet. In the last three meetings between the two finalists, Sehwag has managed only 37, 72 and two and the highest of them came in a losing cause. Maxwell has been an unequivocal failure with scores of 15, 14 and six. While it’s true that Sehwag and Maxwell still pose the biggest threat, the likes of Wriddhiman Saha, Manan Vohra, David Miller and skipper George Bailey can be equally dangerous on their day.

It’s also a fact that Knight Riders are the only team to have beaten Kings XI twice this season, largely on the strength of their bowling. While the Knight Riders failed to scale down a modest 133-run target against Kings XI in Abu Dhabi, they successfully overhauled 149 in Cuttack. And in Qualifier 1 in Kolkata, the Gautam Gambhir-led side restricted the league’s best batting unit to 135 after posting 163. It’s a telling piece of statistics that Kings XI, who have seven 190-plus scores this season, haven’t mustered a single 150 total in three outings against Knight Riders.

While Sunil Narine (20 wickets at an economy rate of 6.01) continues to be their trump card, the leg-spin of Piyush Chawla and the left-arm spin of Shakib Al Hasan have come in more than handy. Umesh Yadav has upped his performance by several notches and Morne Morkel has hustled batsmen with his pace and bounce. Gambhir’s attacking captaincy too has contributed in the team’s winning run in no small measure.

It’s thus safe to assume that it will be Knight Riders’ bowling versus Kings XI batting.

Knight Riders’ batting itself has assumed a different dimension ever since Robin Uthappa has donned the opener’s role. It’s no mere coincidence that his remarkable consistency (40 or more in the last 10 innings) at the top of the order has also seen Knight Riders reel off eight consecutive wins en route to the final. The Orange cap holder with 655 runs, Uthappa has provided crucial starts which the middle-order has cashed in on successfully.

Kings XI bowling, on the other hand, has been their weakest link. Though they have a world-class bowler in Mitchell Johnson, the 226-run total against Super Kings looked achievable when Suresh Raina (87 off 25) was going berserk, amply reflecting the chink in their armour. Given the small boundaries and batsmen-friendly surface here, Kings XI attack will be under pressure. They will also have to contend with the partisan crowd most of whom are expected to root for the Knight Riders who have three local players in their set-up -- Uthappa, Manish Pandey and R Vinay Kumar.

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