Two-time champions Kolkata Knight Riders will eye a handsome win over struggling Rajasthan Royals in their last round-robin game to pretty much secure a playoff berth in Sharjah on Thursday.
With 12 points from 13 matches, KKR are currently sitting at the fourth position in the pecking order, just ahead of defending champions Mumbai Indians on net run-rate.
MI too have 12 points from 13 games and still have a match to play against bottom-placed Sunrisers Hyderabad on Friday.
If both KKR and MI win their last matches, then it will boil down to net run rate and that’s where the Eoin Morgan-led side (0.294) would have an edge as it currently enjoys a positive run rate compared to the Mumbai outfit (-0.048).
KKR had a mixed bag in the second leg of the tournament so far, winning four and losing two games.
While KKR started the second phase with back-to-back wins over Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians before suffering a defeat to Chennai Super Kings, they came back to beat table-toppers Delhi Capitals.
A defeat against Punjab Kings followed before they outplayed SRH by six wickets to keep their nose ahead in the race for the final playoffs spot.
“The match against SRH was a good example, we are fortunate enough that the other guys in our bowling group bowled extremely well and that allowed us to juggle things around,” the KKR captain said.
KKR have been impressive in the second half and even their two defeats were narrow, where they lost in the last over.
In the batting department, Venkatesh Iyer has been the star performer in the second leg for KKR, while Rahul Tripathi too has been impressive this season.
Young Shubman Gill scored a fine half-century in KKR’s last match, which holds good for the team. Nitish Rana, up in the batting order, has also done well but the form of skipper Morgan remains a cause for concern.
“I am delighted for Shubman Gill. He has shown a great amount of promise in all formats of the game. Probably over the last two IPLs, he has continued to show promise. On a tricky wicket today, he made it look easy. His true class shone through...,” the skipper said of the young Indian batter.
“Yeah, I am short of runs in this phase of the tournament, the whole tournament in general. I am very lucky to be in a position where I have been through stages like this in my career,’ Morgan added.
The induction of star Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib al Hasan in the last match for the first time in the second leg, has given a new dimension to the side.
In bowling, mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy has been the team’s go-to man while Sunil Narine too has been among the wickets.
In the absence of Andre Russell and Lockie Ferguson, who missed a few games following injuries, Tim Southee and Shivam Mavi are the new pace bowling pair for KKR.
Pacer Prasidh Krishna did well to snap four wickets in the matches that he had played, before being dropped for conceding 22 runs in the 19th over, against CSK.
RR are out of the race, languishing at the seventh spot in the eight-team standings with 10 points from 13 games.
And come Thursday, RR would look to dent KKR’s hopes and end their campaign on a positive note.
RR have been hit hard by the form of their Indian batsmen. Barring Yashahvi Jaiswal and, to some extent, skipper Sanju Samson, the team’s Indian batsmen lacked intent.
With Mustafizur Rahaman as their most experienced overseas signing and young Chetan Sakariya in the ranks, RR’s bowling is a bit thin on experience.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Eoin Morgan (captain), Dinesh Karthik, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Karun Nair, Nitish Rana, Rahul Tripathy, Shubman Gill, Harbhajan Singh, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Kuldeep Yadav, Lockie Ferguson, Pawan Negi, M Prasidh Krishna, Sandeep Warrier, Shivam Dube, Tim Southee, Vaibhav Arora, Varun Chakravarthy, Andre Russel, Ben Cutting, Shakib Al Hasan, Sunil Narine, Venkatesh Iyer, Sheldon Jackson, Tim Seifert.
Rajasthan Royals: Sanju Samson (captain), Liam Livingstone, Evin Lewis, David Miller, Chris Morris, Oshane Thomas, Mustafizur Rahaman, Tabraiz Shamsi, Glenn Phillips, Chetan Sakariya, Riyan Parag, Rahul Tewatia, Akash Singh, Anuj Rawat, KC Cariappa, Yashashvi Jaiswal, Shivam Dube, Shreyas Gopal, Kartik Tyagi, Mayank Markande, Jaydev Unadkat, Kuldip Yadav, Mahipal Lomror.
Match starts at 7:30 PM.
(With PTI inputs)
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