Challengers face tough Knights' test

RCB look to sustain the momentum against champs

Challengers face tough Knights' test

With the pieces slowly falling together following an early season snag, the Royal Challengers Bangalore will begin a crucial five-day examination on Saturday that could potentially define their qualification chances.

Stuck in mid-table on seven points with half their season gone (seven matches) and very little separating the teams around them, the Royal Challengers face-off against reigning champions Kolkata Knight Riders (nine points) here at the Chinnaswamy Stadium on Saturday before travelling to Chennai to take on current table-toppers Super Kings on Monday and then returning back home for a clash against Kings XI Punjab on Wednesday.

It is one hectic ride that is part and parcel of any league in the world which generally makes or breaks season for contenders and the mettle of RCB will be tested in this crunch phase where previously they’ve often been found wanting.

Just about 10 days ago, the Royal Challengers’ campaign seemed in disarray with old problems -- especially bowling -- bearing its ugly fangs again as team after team feasted on the generous helpings offered. But the arrival of Mitchell Starc has acted like a perfect tonic for the Challengers.

Having gone for plenty in their opening four matches where they managed just one win, the RCB bowlers appear to have found their bite since Starc’s belated entry from injury. Although they lost to the Super Kings in Starc’s first match of the season, the Royal Challengers bowled brilliantly against Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Daredevils with the batsmen then completing the demolition job.

While Starc has been extremely impressive since landing in India, his performance has rubbed on the other bowlers as well, especially the Indian pacers. Both Harshal Patel and Varun Aaron have been on the money after going all over the place and with leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal -- the lone warrior earlier -- hardly giving anything away, the bowling wears a more settled look now. With South African all-rounder David Wiese making superb contributions with both bat and ball, the balance is also there.

Teenager Sarfaraz Khan’s stunning 21-ball 45 against Rajasthan Royals in the last match, where RCB can feel being robbed of a win when rain forced both teams to share a point, augurs well for the batting unit that had been so heavily reliant on Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. The Big Three have gone about their job with varying degrees of success with de Villiers being the most consistent amongst the lot.

One big worry so far has the been the form of domestic batsmen like Dinesh Karthik, Mandeep Singh and Manvinder Bisla. None of them has set the stage on fire and time has come for them to step up and deliver consistently.

Champions Knight Riders, who’ve had their fair share of problems with key all-rounder Shakib al Hasan leaving for national commitments and Sunil Narine’s bowling yet again coming under the scanner, have kept themselves in the hunt with someone or the other rising to the occasion.
Having registered a morale-booting win over Super Kings in their last encounter with opener Robin Uthappa notching up his maiden half-century of the season, KKR would be looking for revenge against RCB who snatched a thrilling at Eden Gardens last month.
The contest has the trappings of another big battle but an eye will be on the weather that has thrown life out of gear in the City over the last week.

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