In his last season as the leader of the ship, captain Virat Kohli is three wins away from achieving what’s been close to his heart. Royal Challengers Bangalore have never won the Indian Premier League title and if this is indeed their year, then they have three knockout matches left to end the long wait. And up against the ice-cool demeanour of Eoin Morgan and Co, RCB face perhaps the form team of the tournament in Kolkata Knight Riders in the Eliminator in Sharjah on Monday.

Kohli, who has decided to step down from captaincy after this edition, has led RCB to the finals in 2016 besides reaching the play-offs twice in 2015 and 2020, and he would like to end things on a high.

For Morgan, it is about regaining the lost glory for KKR, a team which achieved great success under Gautam Gambhir who had led them to two IPL titles in a space of three years in 2012 and 2014. But the franchise has struggled since.

On paper, it would be a battle between two evenly-poised teams, but overall, KKR has a slight edge, having won 15 out of 28 matches they played over the years.

RCB will be brimming with confidence after securing a thrilling win over Delhi Capitals with a last-ball six in their final league match, finishing third in the standings with 18 points from 14 matches.

KKR, on the other hand, scripted a terrific turnaround, finishing fourth with 14 points after winning five of seven games in the UAE leg following a lacklustre performance in the first phase. Morgan’s men had notched up a massive 86-run win over Rajasthan Royals to seal their play-offs spot and would look to carry the momentum into the Eliminator, also played in Sharjah.

But past records will count for little and it will boil down to winning small moments in the match, something which Kohli and Morgan would know pretty well. Both the captains have enough ammunition in their disposal and it will be all about managing the resources.

Maxi show

RCB possess a formidable batting line-up that includes AB de Villiers, Glenn Maxwell and Devdutt Padikkal apart from Kohli, but they have not quite got the combinations right on occasions. The side has been carried by the brilliance of Maxwell at times.

While their top-order has given starts, the middle-order looked unsure with problems at No 3. AB de Villiers has been underused but Srikar Bharat’s emergence has been a big positive. The wicketkeeper batsman scored a 52-ball 78 at No 3 and etched his name in the record books with a last-ball six for RCB in the last game.

The batter who has stood out for RCB though is Glenn Maxwell. The Australian power-hitter has 498 runs and has been Kohli’s go-to man this season. He had scored a total of six fifties in his IPL career before 2021, and he has matched that tally just this year.

The RCB skipper and his opening partner Padikkal, however, have misfired in the last two innings and would need to find their touch quickly. Sharjah matches have often been won by teams going hard in the powerplay, and that would an area of focus for RCB.

In bowling, Harshal Patel has been simply sensational with 30 wickets in 14 games, which includes a hat-trick against Mumbai Indians. Mohammed Siraj has led the attack well and George Garton too has been impressive in patches, while Yuzvendra Chahal has answered his critics with 16 wickets this season. Lack of wickets in the powerplay has been a concern, but RCB have repeatedly bounced back in the back-end of their bowling innings.

RCB's path to playoffs

Match Result Venue
MI vs RCB RCB won by 2 wickets Chennai
SRH vs RCB RCB won by 6 runs Chennai
RCB vs KKR RCB won by 39 runs Chennai
RCB vs RR RCB won by 10 wickets Mumbai
CSK vs RCB CSK won by 69 runs Mumbai
DC vs RCB RCB won by 1 run Ahmedabad
PBKS vs RCB PBKS won by 34 runs Ahmedabad
KKR vs RCB KKR won by 9 wickets Abu Dhabi
RCB vs CSK CSK won by 6 wickets Sharjah
RCB vs MI RCB won by 54 runs Dubai
RR vs RCB RCB won by 7 wickets Dubai
RCB vs PBKS RCB won by 6 runs Sharjah
RCB vs SRH SRH won by 4 runs Abu Dhabi
RCB vs DC RCB won by 7 wickets Dubai

RCB's top 5 batters in IPL 2021

PLAYER Inns Runs SR 4s 6s
Glenn Maxwell 13 498 147.33 47 21
 Devdutt Padikkal 13 390 125.80 42 14
 Virat Kohli 14 366 119.60 38 9
 AB de Villiers 13 302 149.50 22 16
 KS Bharat 6 182 130.00 10 8

RCB's top 5 bowlers in IPL 2021

PLAYER Inns Wkts Econ SR
Harshal Patel 14 30 8.40 10.46
 Yuzvendra Chahal 14 16 7.30 18.37
 Mohammed Siraj 14 9 6.95 32.00
 Kyle Jamieson 9 9 9.60 18.66
 Shahbaz Ahmed 6 7 6.57 12.00

KKR resurgence

KKR too has been served well by the bowlers, who has churned out some terrific performances.

In the pace duo of Lockie Ferguson (despite his injury) and Shivam Mavi, KKR have two dangerous wicket-takers. They shared seven wickets in their last match. And the spinners led by Varun Chakravarthy, Sunil Narine, and Shakib Al Hasan too have been impressive.

In batting, Shubman Gill, Venkatesh Iyer, Rahul Tripathi and Nitish Rana hold the key and it will be interesting to see how they handle the variations of Patel and guile of Chahal at the slow Sharjah pitch.

One definite concern is that skipper Morgan has been woefully out of form with the bat, but if he connects and finds his timing, Sharjah is too small a ground to keep him quiet.

It remains to be seen if their main man Andre Russell returns to fitness, and if he does, who makes way for him.

KKR's road to playoffs

Match Result Venue
SRH vs KKR KKR won by 10 runs Chennai
KKR vs MI MI won by 10 runs Chennai
RCB vs KKR RCB won by 39 runs Chennai
KKR vs CSK CSK won by 18 runs Mumbai
RR vs KKR RR won by 6 wickets Mumbai
PBKS vs KKR KKR won by 5 wickets Ahmedabad
DC vs KKR DC won by 7 wickets Ahmedabad
KKR vs RCB KKR won by 9 wickets Abu Dhabi
MI vs KKR KKR won by 7 wickets Abu Dhabi
CSK vs KKR CSK won by 2 wickets Abu Dhabi
KKR vs DC KKR won by 3 wickets Sharjah
KKR vs PBKS PBKS won by 5 wickets Dubai
KKR vs SRH KKR won by 6 wickets Dubai
KKR vs RR KKR won by 86 runs Sharjah

KKR's top 5 bowlers in IPL 2021

PLAYER Inns Wkts Econ SR
Varun Chakaravarthy 14 16 6.50 21.00
 Prasidh Krishna 10 12 9.11 19.25
 Andre Russell 8 11 9.89 10.36
 Lockie Ferguson 5 10 6.22 10.80
 Sunil Narine 11 10 6.52 26.40

KKR's top 5 batters in IPL 2021

PLAYER Inns Runs SR 4s 6s
Rahul Tripathi 13 377 142.80 40 10
 Shubman Gill 14 352 119.32 39 11
 Nitish Rana 13 347 125.72 33 15
 Venkatesh Iyer 7 239 129.18 28 7
 Dinesh Karthik 12 204 137.83 21 6

Head to head

RCB vs KKR Head to Head

Matches RCB wins KKR wins No Result
Overall 27 15 (+1 after tie) 10 1
In 2021 2 1 1 -
Since 2019 6 4 2 -
Since 2020 in UAE 3 2 1 -

Previous meetings in IPL 2021:

Brief Scores: 

Match No 30, Abu Dhabi: Kolkata Knight Riders 94/1 (Shubman Gill 48, Venkatesh Iyer 41*; Yuzvendra Chahal 1/23) beat Royal Challengers Bangalore 92 all out (Devdutt Padikkal 22, KS Bharat 16; Andre Russell 3/9) by nine wickets

Match No 10, Chennai: Royal Challengers Bangalore: 204-4 (Glenn Maxwell 78, AB de Villiers 76*; Varun Chakravarthy 2/39) beat Kolkata Knight Riders 166-8 (Andre Russell 31, Eoin Morgan 29; Kyle Jamieson 3-41) by 38 runs.

With PTI and inputs