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Nothing-to-lose Pune could spoil Kolkata’s plans

Wisden India logo Wisden India 14-05-2016
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There was a big sense of anticipation around Rising Pune Supergiants at the beginning of the Indian Premier League 2016, and who would have thought that a side comprising MS Dhoni, Steven Smith, Ajinkya Rahane, Kevin Pietersen, Faf du Plessis and R Ashwin would be among the first to crash out of the tournament? Yes, injuries did play a big part in the derailment of the IPL first-timers, but, still, eight losses in 11 games?

Come Saturday (May 14), Pune take on Kolkata Knight Riders at Eden Gardens in Kolkata for the 45th match of the tournament, and though victory would be inconsequential to Dhoni and his men as far as qualifying for the playoffs is concerned, the nothing-to-lose situation could still make for an interesting contest.

Kolkata have done well, winning six out of ten matches, but the five-wicket loss they suffered in the hands of Gujarat Lions on Sunday would have definitely hurt their momentum. They slipped from the pole position to fourth after that, with Sunrisers Hyderabad (14 points), Gujarat (14), and Delhi Daredevils (12) overtaking them. If Mumbai Indians beat Kings XI Punjab on Friday night, even they would go past Kolkata.

Both Kolkata and Pune have had a decently long break since their previous encounters, and would be desperate to prove a point when they lock horns in front of what is expected to be a packed gathering in Kolkata.

Sunil Narine, who grabbed the headlines with numerous match-winning performances during Kolkata’s title wins in 2012 and 2014, was seen putting in extra hours at the nets, which hint at him replacing Brad Hogg in the playing XI on the night. But Narine, who missed the first two games due to his father’s demise, and has only managed six wickets from six outings since at an unimpressive economy of 7.34, would need to step up his game if he has to cement his place in the side for the remaining part of the tournament.

The Eden track, traditionally known to assist spinners, has not been as encouraging to the slower bowlers this season so far, but rumours of a possible rank turner for this match were doing the rounds on Friday evening, which could be the reason behind Narine getting more net time.

But Pune, too, have some good spinners in their ranks, and wouldn’t mind a turning strip given R Ashwin, Adam Zampa and M Ashwin have all struck form along the way. Zampa comes in to this match on the back of a six-wicket burst against Hyderabad, though Pune eventually went down by four runs in that game despite Zampa’s brilliance.

In the batting department, Kolkata’s opening duo of Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa have fired regularly, with Manish Pandey, Suryakumar Yadav, Yusuf Pathan and Andre Russell all pitching in when needed. Shakib Al Hasan, who had a quiet start to his campaign with the bat, is also back among runs, having scripted an unbeaten 66 in the previous game against Gujarat.

For Pune, Rahane has done the bulk of scoring. With Smith, Pietersen and du Plessis, as well as Mitchell Marsh, back home, Dhoni would hope for his other top-order batsmen – Usman Khawaja, George Bailey and Saurabh Tiwary – to chip in, with Thisara Perera and Dhoni upping the ante at the death.

The weather in Kolkata has been characteristically warm, with humidity expected to touch the 65% mark on Saturday night. And though there was no forecast of the sort, a strong thundershower hit most parts of Kolkata on Friday night. Under such conditions, how the track – pitch No. 4 – actually plays would be interesting to watch.

Teams (from)

Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (capt), Robin Uthappa (wk), Manish Pandey, Suryakumar Yadav, Shakib Al Hasan, Yusuf Pathan, Andre Russell, Brad Hogg, Piyush Chawla, Morne Morkel, Umesh Yadav, Sunil Narine, Chris Lynn, Jason Holder, Colin Munro, Simon Katich, Sheldon Jackson, Jaydev Unadkat, R Sathish, Ankit Rajpoot.

Rising Pune Supergiants: MS Dhoni (capt/wk), Ajinkya Rahane, Usman Khawaja, George Bailey, R Ashwin, Saurabh Tiwary, Thisara Perera, Rajat Bhatia, Adam Zampa, Ashok Dinda, RP Singh, M Ashwin, B Aparajith, Ankit Sharma, Ankush Bains, Deepak Chahar, Scott Boland, Peter Handscomb, Jaskaran Singh, Albie Morkel, Ishwar Pandey, Irfan Pathan, Ishant Sharma.

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