Mumbai, May 15: In a do-or-die IPL cricket match, defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders will take on Rajasthan Royals as the race for the play-off berths hots up at the Brabourne Stadium, here tomorrow. (Exciting battle: 5 games, 5 teams, 3 playoff slots, 3 days)
Knight Riders, who lost a crucial game against Mumbai Indians last night, are in a must-win situation in their final league match to seal a final-four spot.
The Gautam Gambhir-led side failed to score 12 runs off the final over, which would have ensured their play-off entry.
Now it will be a huge task for KKR to dust off that disappointment and take on the might of Royals, who also need a win in their last league match to get into the top-four.
While KKR have 15 points from 13 matches, Royals have one point less and in the crucial contest the team that keeps its nerves will invariably go through to the last four.
Knight Riders seemed to have things well under control in their previous game till the last five overs of the MI innings, when their bowlers conceded a whopping 72 runs after having reduced the hosts to 79 for four.
The death bowling is one key area the team needs to improve on, conceded former Bangladesh captain Shakib Al Hasan after their heart-wrenching loss.
"Today we started well with the ball. It was in the way we finished in the last five, that part we can obviously improve," Shakib, who bowled superbly to take 2 for 22 with his left arm spin, said after the match.
KKR batsmen let off good starts against MI to leave things a bit too late and in the end even Yusuf Pathan's well-made 52 was unable to get the team over the line. Shakib admitted the follies of their batsmen.
"I thought whoever gets in should also finish the job, that's what we didn't do. Some of our guys were set but could not go on and finish the game. These are some of the areas we can improve on," he added.
One of the bright spots in yesterday's loss for the title holders was the way big-hitting Yusuf batted in his 31-ball knock. Though he fell off the first ball of the last over, he showed a welcome trend of biding his time before unleashing the big shots.
KKR have a potent pace attack led by Umesh Yadav and Morne Morkel and have the option of shackling the free-scoring Royals batting line-up in which Ajinkya Rahane holds the key with their tight spin bowling duo of Shakib and Sunil Narine, who both bowled well against MI.
Placed fifth on the table Royals go into the needle contest after a well-earned rest following their loss to Chennai Super Kings in their previous away game on May 10. They have had an up and down run, after a glorious opening phase of five wins on the trot, followed by a super over loss to Kings XI Punjab and two rained-out games that have arrested their smooth progress.
The Shane Watson-led side has functioned in fits and starts after a great start to their campaign and would be anxious to get their act together for a final push into the last four. Successive losses to Sunrisers Hyderabad here and against CSK five days ago have kept them on the edge.
It will be imperative that they regain their focus if they have to topple a strong outfit like Knight Riders in a make-or-break situation. According to team mentor and former captain Rahul Dravid, their bowling at the death has been somewhat of a let-down and needs to be addressed to.
"Our bowling has definitely not been up to the mark in the last few overs and that is something we have to work on before the important match against KKR. That is one area I admit we have lagged behind," he said ahead of the all-important game.
Rajasthan Royals: Steve Smith (captain), Ajinkya Rahane, Shane Watson, James Faulkner, Deepak Hooda, Sanju Samson (wicketkeeper), Karun Nair, Dhawal Kuikarni, Tim Southee, Stuart Binny, Chris Morris, Pravin Tambe, Abhishek Nayar, Pardeep Sahu, Rusty Theron, Dinesh Salunkhe, Vikramjit Malik, Rahul Tewatia, Rajat Bhatia, Sagar Trivedi, Dishant Yagnik and Ankit Sharma.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (captain), Robin Uthappa (wicketkeeper), Manish Pandey, Suryakumar Yadav, Ryan ten Doeschate, Shakib Al Hasan, Yusuf Pathan, Andre Russell, Kuldeep Yadav, Morne Morkel, Patrick Cummins, Piyush Chawla, Sunil Narine, Johan Botha, Umesh Yadav, Brad Hogg, Aditya Garhwal, Sumit Narwal, KC Cariappa, Vaibhav Rawal and Sheldon Jackson.
Match starts 8 PM IST
Also playing on Saturday at 4 PM - KXIP Vs CSK (Match Preview)