With the odds stacked against them, former champions Rajasthan Royals will look to go full throttle when they lock horns with two-time winners and overwhelming favourites Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League Eliminator in Kolkata on Wednesday.
The Knight Riders outplayed Rajasthan in the home and away games this season. If it was a seven-wicket win at Jaipur last month, the two-time winners notched up a comprehensive six-wicket win over their rivals a week ago at Eden Gardens en route to sealing their play-off berth.
With three wins on the trot, the Knight Riders are on a roll as they clinched the last-four berth for a sixth time. From posting the highest total of the season to stunning table-toppers Sunrisers Hyderabad in their last match, the Dinesh Karthik-led side have been going from strength-to-strength.
To make it easier for them, the Knight Riders are the only team from the four qualifiers to get the home advantage in the Eliminator.
The winner of Wednesday’s match will face Sunrisers Hyderabad in the second Qualifier – also to be held at Kolkata – which will decide the second entrant of the final.
Champions of the inaugural edition in 2008, Rajasthan, on the other hand, have been heavily reliant on the alignment of their stars for their passage into the play-offs.
Minus their two top English star performers – Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes, who were called for national duty – Rajasthan were written off by many, but they managed to upset Royal Challengers Bangalore in their final league game to keep their slender hopes alive.
The win, however, was still not enough as they needed two results to go in their favour to qualify for the play-offs.
Their prayers were answered exactly the way they wanted when the other contenders – Mumbai Indians and Kings XI Punjab – were eliminated after losing their respective matches and Rajasthan advanced to the play-offs in a dramatic way.
But in the Eliminator stage, which is a virtual quarter-final, there’s no margin for error and the Ajinkya Rahane-led side have to rely on their limited resources.
The first challenge for them will be to conquer the spin challenge of Sunil Narine, Piyush Chawla and Kuldeep Yadav, who haunted them with an IPL career-best 4/20 in their six-wicket defeat earlier in the season.
Rahane will need to be among the runs and hope that the likes of Sanju Samson and in-form opener Rahul Tripathi come good on a pitch that promises to be full of runs. The wicket is also expected to favour the team batting second.
Karthik has been terrific as the new captain for the Knight Riders, playing the finisher’s role for the team in most of the games with six unbeaten knocks.
Leading by example, Karthik has been their top run-getter with 438 runs at an average of 54.78 (strike rate 149.48). Belligerent as an opener and smart with his spin bowling, Sunil Narine, a two-time IPL winner with the Knight Riders, is once again proving to be their most valuable player.
With Chris Lynn restraining his strokemaking for a dodgy shoulder, Narine has complemented well with a strike rate of 189.01 to give them a fiery start.
While the spinners have done their job, the pace department was found lacking but young Karnataka pacer Prasidh Krishna came up with his T20 best figures of 4/30 against Hyderabad in their last match – he adds stability to their pace attack.