Navi Mumbai: Former champions Kolkata Knight Riders will be desperate to get their flag campaign back on track when they meet the leaders Gujarat Titans in the IPL here on Saturday.
After suffering three defeats in a row, the Shreyas Iyer-led outfit has dropped to seventh and the task gets tougher against the Titans, who were a revelation in their first season.
The Hardik Pandya-led Gujarat Titans have fired every cylinder, with their agility and bowling prowess.
Pandya withdrew from their last game against Chennai Super Kings due to a groin injury, but it was business as usual for the Titans as stand-in skipper Rashid Khan led the team to a three-wicket victory over the four-time champions.
The biggest plus in their win against CSK was Rashid’s sensational form with the bat as he busted a 21-ball 40 to help his team chase the goal with a reserve of ball.
GT’s opening combination may not have given them the start they wanted and mostly the mid-range saved the Titans.
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It was David Miller (94 not off 51 balls) who anchored the show against Chennai after half the squad were back in the pavilion with 87 runs within 13 overs.
According to Rashid, Pandya’s injury was “not serious and there is nothing to worry about.”
Pandya was superlative with 228 runs from five innings with an average of 76.00.
It would be up to the Kolkata bowlers to seize the momentum and stop the Titans’ three-match winning run.
KKR’s pace attack led by Pat Cummins and Umesh Yadav and spinner Varun Chakravarthy (30 runs from two overs) was brought to the cleaners by the Rajasthan Royals batters in their final game.
It remains to be seen if the team think tank will bring Tim Southee back into the XI as the key lies in getting early breakthroughs and giving Sunil Narine a perfect podium to limit the flow of runs.
Long-time an essential cog in KKR’s wheel, Narine has once again been their go-to man, boasting the best economy rate of 5.03 after seven matches.
The batters have stopped taking risks against the Trinidad and he hopes their tempo battery will give some early breakthroughs to make the task easier for the wrist spinner.
The game also makes for an interesting match-up between former KKR batter Shubman Gill and Narine.
Gill had a good start to the tournament, scoring 84 (vs Delhi) and 96 (vs Punjab), but has since gone quiet.
As for KKR batting, Captain Iyer is fresh off an 85 penalty against Rajasthan Royals, but he hopes their opening problem has been resolved.
KKR’s investment in India Test batter Ajinkya Rahane (80 runs from five games; 4 PM average, strike-rate 100.00) as opener was a major disappointment, forcing the think tank to try different combinations in the last two games.
In such a scenario, the Titans bowling attack in Mohammed Shami would try to capitalize on Lockie Ferguson, Rashid Khan and Pandya.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Shreyas Iyer (c), Aaron Finch, Abhijeet Tomar, Ajinkya Rahane, Baba Indrajith, Nitish Rana, Pratham Singh, Rinku Singh, Ashok Sharma, Pat Cummins, Rasikh Dar, Shivam Mavi, Tim Southee, Umesh Yadav, Varun Chakaravarthy, Aman Khan, Andre Russell, Anukul Roy, Chamika Karunaratne, Mohammed Nabi, Ramesh Kumar, Sunil Narine, Venkatesh Iyer, Sam Billings, Sheldon Jackson.
Gujarat Titans: Hardik Pandya (c), Abhinav Manohar, David Miller, Gurkeerat Singh, B Sai Sudarshan, Shubman Gill, Rahul Tewatia, Vijay Shankar, Matthew Wade, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Wriddhiman Saha, Alzarri Joseph, Darshan Nalkande, Dominic Drakes, Jayant Yadav, Lockie Ferguson, Mohammed Shami, Noor Ahmad, Pradeep Sangwan, Rashid Khan, Ravisrinivasan Sai Kishore, Varun Aaron, Yash Dayal.
Start match: 3.30 pm. IST.
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