Kolkata, May 3: Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) come back to familiar home conditions but will be wary of Kings XI Punjab (KXIP), which is showing signs of improvement under a newly-appointed skipper, when the two teams clash in an IPL 2016 match, here tomorrow (May 4).
Out on road for about three weeks, the two-time former champions KKR have played six of their seven away matches on the trot, winning four of them.
They are returning to Eden Gardens after a morale-boosting five-wicket win in Bangalore, engineered by Yusuf Pathan and Andre Russell's power hitting. They were staring at a third successive away loss with 81 needed from six overs but Russell flexed his muscles with a 24-ball 39. (VIDEO: Gambhir kicks chair, throws towel)
A vintage Pathan also came to the party smashing bowlers into smithereens in his 29-ball 60 not out. Their partnership came when the team needed it the most as their 96 from 44 balls sealed the win.
The win had seemed far-fetched after their trusted duo of Sunil Narine and Umesh Yadav leaked 101 runs from their quota of eight overs. The speedster was wayward at the death.
Yadav lost the plot completely in that 18th over, and ended up nervous for the rest of the spell as his last two overs cost 41 runs. But despite their domination Bangalore had to succumb to Russell-Pathan's heroics.
But despite their spectacular run, they cannot afford to sit back as they run into a side who're finally looking up fresh from their 23-run win against table toppers Gujarat Lions.
Having showed some urgency midway into the season, the team handed the captaincy to Murali Vijay, relieving David Miller of the extra burden, something that brought in some fresh air into the camp after they had lost five of their six matches this season.
Fresh from his hat-trick effort, Axar Patel will look to contain the likes of Russell and Pathan on a surface that traditionally aids the spinners.
Defending a modest 156, KXIP reduced Lions to 57/6 with Patel (4/21) claiming four wickets in five balls, including the first hat-trick of the season, to pave the way for a 23-run win against table-toppers Gujarat Lions in Rajkot.
Their bowlers might have let them down on previous occasions but the new skipper Vijay backed them and kept on rotating them to unsettle the Lions rhythm. By the end of Powerplay, Vijay had used five bowlers.
"You cannot just try to go and do something out of the box. We need to manipulate what resources we have and get the best performance with them rather than telling we can all go and bowl four overs and get two wickets (each)," Vijay said at after their win.
There's no way KXIP can go down as Vijay's task is cutout. They have to win their remaining matches to stay in the hunt.
With their Aussie batsman Shaun Marsh ruled out for the rest of the season with a back injury, Vijay will have to rethink his strategy.
The lefthander's top score was against KKR - 56 not out in 41 balls - in a the first leg match they lost by six wickets. Marsh had totalled 159 runs in the six matches he played, at 31.80 with a strike rate of 118.65 as he will be sorely missed by its franchise.
South African Farhaan Behardien may get a look in place of Marsh but the bigger problem for Vijay would be to address the team's batting form especially that of Glenn Maxwell who just has a halfcentury from seven matches and scored a duck against the Lions.
Be it their top order in Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa or their middle order, KKR's batting has been their key to success this season and it will be a big challenge for KXIP's limited resources.
"The good thing for us is that now everyone is clicking. In the coming matches, this will give us great confidence. We are professional cricketers and we know that when we play in Kolkata, our openers might play 15 overs and we might not get a chance to bat at all, but in the knockouts, if we qualify, our services might be needed again. So yes, we are a confident unit now, and ready to face any situation," Pathan said last night.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (captain), Robin Uthappa (wicketkeeper), Manish Pandey, Suryakumar Yadav, Chris Lynn, Andre Russell, Yusuf Pathan, Sunil Narine, Umesh Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Morne Morkel, Jason Holder, Shakib Al Hasan, Brad Hogg, Sheldon Jackson, Kuldeep Yadav, Manan Sharma, Colin Munro, Ankit Rajpoot, Rajagopal Sathish, Jaydev Unadkat.
Kings XI Punjab: Murali Vijay (captain), Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell, Gurkeerat Singh, David Miller, Wriddhiman Saha (wicketkeeper), Axar Patel, Mohit Sharma, KC Cariappa, Sandeep Sharma, Anureet Singh, Armaan Jaffer, Kyle Abbott, Farhaan Behardien, Rishi Dhawan, Mitchell Johnson, Nikhil Naik, Pradeep Sahu, Swapnil Singh, Shradul Thakur, Manan Vohra.
Match starts 8 PM IST