Struggling KKR face stern Gujarat Titans test
Former champions Kolkata Knight Riders will be desperate to bring their flagging campaign back on track when they face leaders Gujarat Titans in the IPL here on Saturday.
Having suffered three defeats in a row, the Shreyas Iyer-led outfit has slipped to seventh in the table and the task gets tougher against the Titans, who have been a revelation in their maiden season.
The Hardik Pandya-led Gujarat Titans have been firing on all cylinders, with their batting prowess and bowling might.
Pandya pulled out of their last match against Chennai Super Kings owing to a groin injury but it was business as usual for the Titans as stand-in skipper Rashid Khan led the team to a three-wicket win over the four-time champions.
The biggest plus in their win against CSK was Rashid's sensational form with the bat as he smashed a 21-ball 40 to help his team chase down the target with a ball spare.
GT's opening combination may not have given them the desired start and most of the times the middle-order has rescued the Titans.
It was David Miller (94 not out from 51 balls) who anchored the show against Chennai after half the side were back in the pavilion with 87 runs inside 13 overs.
According to Rashid, Pandya's injury was "not serious and there's nothing to be worried about."
Pandya has been in superlative form with 228 runs from five innings at an average of 76.00.
The onus would be on Kolkata's bowlers to seize the momentum and stop the Titans' three-match winning run.
KKR's pace attack led by Pat Cummins and Umesh Yadav and spinner Varun Chakravarthy (30 runs from two overs) were taken to cleaners by the Rajasthan Royals batters in their last match.
It remains to be seen if the team think-tank would bring back Tim Southee in the XI as the key lies in getting early breakthroughs and giving Sunil Narine a perfect stage to restrict the flow of runs.
Narine, a vital cog in KKR's wheel for long, has once again been their go-to man and boasts of the best economy rate of 5.03 after seven matches.
The batters have stopped taking risks against the Trinidadian and he would hope that their pace battery gives some early breakthroughs to make the task easier for the wrist spinner.
The game also throws an interesting match-up between former KKR batter Shubman Gill and Narine.
Gill had a fine start to the tournament and scored 84 (vs Delhi) and 96 (vs Punjab) but has gone quiet since then.
As for KKR batting, captain Iyer is fresh from a fine 85 against Rajasthan Royals, but he would hope their opening issue is resolved.
KKR's investment in India Test batter Ajinkya Rahane (80 runs from five matches; average 16.00, strike-rate 100.00) as an opener has been a big letdown, forcing the think-tank to try out different combinations in the last two matches.
In such a scenario, the Titans bowling attack in Mohammed Shami, Lockie Ferguson, Rashid Khan and Pandya would look to capitalise.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Shreyas Iyer (c), Aaron Finch, Abhijeet Tomar, Ajinkya Rahane, Baba Indrajith, Nitish Rana, Pratham Singh, Rinku Singh, Ashok Sharma, Pat Cummins, Rasikh Dar, Shivam Mavi, Tim Southee, Umesh Yadav, Varun Chakaravarthy, Aman Khan, Andre Russell, Anukul Roy, Chamika Karunaratne, Mohammed Nabi, Ramesh Kumar, Sunil Narine, Venkatesh Iyer, Sam Billings, Sheldon Jackson.
Gujarat Titans: Hardik Pandya (c), Abhinav Manohar, David Miller, Gurkeerat Singh, B Sai Sudarshan, Shubman Gill, Rahul Tewatia, Vijay Shankar, Matthew Wade, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Wriddhiman Saha, Alzarri Joseph, Darshan Nalkande, Dominic Drakes, Jayant Yadav, Lockie Ferguson, Mohammed Shami, Noor Ahmad, Pradeep Sangwan, Rashid Khan, Ravisrinivasan Sai Kishore, Varun Aaron, Yash Dayal.
Match starts: 3.30 pm. IST.