Gautam Gambhir's KKR outfit are flying high after their bowlers demolished the much vaunted RCB batting line-up in front of a packed home crowd in their last outing. As they take on a rejuvenated Rising Pune Supergiant in a table-top clash at the Maharashtra Cricket Association stadium, KKR will look to carry forward the momentum and displace Mumbai Indians, who currently occupy the first position in the standings.
As for head-to-head encounters, Kolkata Knight Riders chased 66 (D/L adjusted target) and 161 to win both at home and away against Rising Pune Supergiant in last year's IPL.
KKR's bowling display, sans any contribution from their strike bowler Sunil Narine, has earned it a menacing reputation for being able to pierce through the defense of some of the best batsmen in the world. The win was all the more significant as Coulter-Nile & Co. defended a low total in a tournament otherwise dominated by teams batting first.
In fact, KKR's quality pace attack have been the most productive in the league. They have taken 34 wickets at an average of 19.82. On the other hand, Rising Pune's seamers have managed only 24 wickets at an average of 32.54.
However, for the game against RPS, Knight Riders will be without their main wrecker-in-chief, Coulter Nile, who has reportedly been rested due to workload reasons. Coulter-Nile's absence means either Shakib Al Hasan or Trent Boult could make a return to the team. With their mounting batting woes lower down the order, Gambhir might feel tempted to play Shakib Al Hasan over Trent Boult. Colin de Grandhomme hasn't fired with the bat but his three-wicket haul has boosted his chances of retaining his place.
At the top of the order, Sunil Narine has surprised everyone with his counter-attacking batting and remains a crucial bowler at Gambhir's disposal in the middle overs. Manish Pandey & Yusuf Pathan have batted sensibly at the fag end of the innings and lends stability & experience to the KKR middle-order. Gambhir, who will lead his team for the 100th time and also holds the record for most 50s as captain for an IPL team since 2011, will be expected to play the anchoring role while Uthappa has been very instrumental one down, capitalizing on the powerplay overs to good effect.
Steve Smith's Rising Pune Supergiant has been on a good run of form coming into the crucial home-tie against KKR. Their key player, Ben Stokes' tidy spell played a major part in fashioning its close victory over Mumbai Indians. Stokes' inclusion has also allowed Smith to use him as a floater who can bat in any position depending on the situation.
MS Dhoni, who began the tournament on a struggling note, managed to hit form with a convincing half-century against Sunrisers Hyderabad. This led Ganguly, who recently faced flak for his criticism of Dhoni as a T20 player, to soften his views about the former Indian skipper by stating that Pune's chances of making the play-offs rests entirely on sending the latter to bat at No.4. However, MS Dhoni has struggled against Sunil Narine in T20s. He has managed only 27 runs off 54 balls and the battle between the two in the middle overs will be a treat to watch.
Rahane has blown hot & cold this season and he may need to up the ante during the power play overs. Steve Smith, who has had a phenomenal season with the bat, will be looking to score big and better his team's chances of making it to the playoffs. The domestic players, including the likes of Shardul Thakur, Rahul Tripathi & Jaydev Unadkat have put their hands up admirably and at the same time would have their hands full against one of the most successful IPL teams around.
As we come to the business end of the tournament, the game promises to be a cracker of a contest as Gambhir & Smith will look to do all what it takes to have their noses ahead in the title race.