Kolkata Knight Riders and Rajasthan Royals will clash in the first eliminator of the Indian Premier League at Eden Gardens on Wednesday. It is a do-or-die game as the winner will go on to play in the second Eliminator against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
On a three-match winning streak, Kolkata Knight Riders will be favourites to win as they have already beaten Rajasthan Royals twice this season.
With Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes also missing from their playing XI, captain Ajinkya Rahane has his task cut out for him against Dinesh Karthik and his men. However, Rahane will take inspiration from their latest win against Royal Challengers Bangalore with the likes of Rahul Tripathi and Shreyas Gopal stepping up.
But an upbeat Knight Riders will truly test their character at the Eden Gardens. Here are the key battles that could help determine a winner.
Ajinkya Rahane vs Kuldeep Yadav
Captain Rahane has had a disappointing IPL by his standards. He has scored a total of 324 runs this season with a strike-rate of 119.11, which is second worst among captains with former Delhi Daredevils skipper Gautam Gambhir being the worst (96.59). His highest score this season has been an unbeaten 65 that was scored in a losing cause as well. As captain, his decisions have not been as astute as a Dhoni or a Williamson.
But, by qualifying for the playoffs, Rahane has a chance to redeem himself after a patchy start. With his team winning four of the last five games, Rahane now has to ensure he regains his form against Kolkata.
However, it is easier said than done. Rahane’s challenge will come against Kuldeep Yadav who has his number in their last encounter at the Eden Gardens. Yadav ended with figures of 4/20 against the Royals in that very match where he finally showed his caliber. His wickets also involved the likes of Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler.
On Wednesday, Rajasthan and Rahane have to be better prepared against Yadav if they are to win the match.
Dinesh Karthik vs Jaydev Unadkat
Kolkata captain Dinesh Karthik will be all smiles and why shouldn’t he be. After their horrific 102-run defeat against Mumbai Indians, his side have gone on to win all their matches and look like the team to beat. Karthik himself has been in dazzling form with the bat scoring 438 runs at an average of 54+ and strike rate of 149.48. Against Rajasthan, this season, he has remained unbeaten in both matches scoring 41 and 42 runs respectively. Clearly he has been one of the finest finishers this season.
The onus will be on one of Rajasthan’s bowlers to step up their game in the death overs. Till now the responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of Jaydev Unadkat. He has struggled in the competition so far, having taken only 11 wickets in 14 matches. With a price tag of Rs 11.50 crore, you definitely have to perform. There’s no better way to earn redemption than in the knockout stage of hight-profile tournament.
K Gowtham vs Chris Lynn
Another interesting battle on the cards will be between leg spinner Shreyas Gopal and Kolkata’s explosive openers Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine. The Australia struck a fiery 55 in their last clash against table toppers Hyderabad, which set the momentum for victory. Along with Sunil Narine, who has smashed 327 runs this season with a strike rate of 189.01, Lynn has formed a formidable opening partnership.
However, the duo has faltered against spin bowling this season. Rahane has been giving the ball to K Gowtham in the opening overs. The off-spinner had picked the prized wicket of Virat Kohli when the two sides met in the league stage.
With Shreyas Gopal taking 4/16 in the same game, Rahane has a few options to disrupt the opening duo.
Jofra Archer vs Andre Russell
In the battle of the all-rounders, it will be Archer taking on Russell in a Caribbean showdown. Russell has played crucial roles in Kolkata’s road to the play-offs. With the ball he has taken 13 wickets and has smashed 264 runs with a strike-rate of 189.92.
Jofra Archer on the other hand has had a below par season. Known for his clean hitting, Archer has failed to dazzle with the bat this season. He has scored a total of 15 runs in nine matches with the highest score being 8. With the ball, he has picked up 13 wickets with an economy rate of 8.38. Russell got the better of Archer in their last encounter as he bagged his wicket.
The duo is set for the final showdown of the season and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Archer has to bring his A-game against an aggressive Russell.