Kolkata Knight Riders take on Rajasthan Royals in the Eliminator of the 2018 Indian Premier League at the Eden Gardens on Tuesday.
With odds stacked against them, former champions Rajasthan Royals will look to go full throttle when they lock horns with two-time winners and overwhelming favourites Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL Eliminator T20 cricket fixture here on Wednesday.
The Knight Riders have outplayed Rajasthan both in the home and away games this season. If it was a seven-wicket win at Jaipur last month, Kolkata notched up a comprehensive six-wicket win over their rivals a week ago at Edens gardens en route to sealing their play-off berth.
With three wins on the trot, Kolkata Knight Riders are on a roll as they clinched the last-four berth for a sixth time. From posting the highest total of the season to stunning table-toppers Sunrisers Hyderabad in their last match, it has been a no-nonsense approach for the Dinesh Karthik-led side.
To make it easier for them, Kolkata are the only team from the four qualifiers to get the home advantage in the Eliminator. The winner of Wednesday's match will face the loser of Qualifier 1 between Sunrisers and Chennai Super Kings in the second Qualifier -- also to be held at Kolkata -- which will decide the second entrant of the final.
Champions of the inaugural edition in 2008, Rajasthan, on the other hand, have been heavily reliant on the alignment of their stars for their passage into the play-offs. Minus their two top English star performers -- Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes who were called for national duty -- Rajasthan were written off by many, but they managed to upset Royal Challengers Bangalore in their final league game on May 19 to keep their slender hopes alive.
The win, however, was still not enough as they needed two results to go in their favour to qualify for the play-offs. Their prayers were answered exactly the way they wanted when the other contenders -- Mumbai Indians and Kings XI Punjab -- were eliminated after losing their respective matches and Rajasthan advanced to the play-off in a dramatic way.
But in the Eliminator stage, which is a virtual quarterfinal, there's no margin for error and the Ajinkya Rahane-led side have to rely on their resources. First challenge for them will be to conquer the spin challenge of Sunil Narine, Piyush Chawla and Kuldeep Yadav, who haunted them with an IPL career-best 4/20 in their six-wicket defeat in Kolkata.
Going through a prolonged lean patch, skipper Rahane (324 runs at 27.00) will be the key to Rajasthan's success. He will look to lead from the front and hope that the likes of Sanju Samson and in-form opener Rahul Tripathi come good on a pitch that promises to be full of runs and would also favour the team batting second.
KKR will have to stymie the South African clean-hitting wicketkeeper-batsman Heinrich Klaasen who will look to play the finishing role for RR. Karthik has been terrific as the new captain for KKR, playing the finisher's role for the team in most of the games with six unbeaten knocks.
Leading by example, Karthik has been their top rungetter with 438 runs at an average of 54.78 (strike rate 149.48). Belligerent as an opener and smart with his spin bowling, Trinidadian Sunil Narine, a two-time IPL winner with KKR, is once again proving to be their most valuable player.
With Chris Lynn restraining his strokemaking for a dodgy shoulder, Narine has complemented well with a strike rate of 189.01 to give them a fiery start. While the spinners have done their job, the pace department was found lacking but young Karnataka pacer Prasidh Krishna came up with his T20 best figures of 4/30 against Hyderabad in their last match and he would look to provide the stability to their pace attack.
Three matches away from winning the title, KKR's batting and bowling has combined seamlessly so far and they will hope to produce their best on Wednesday.
The two teams have played each other 15 times. KKR have won eight of those encounters with RR winning seven, including two tied games. KKR have won five of the six times they have played RR at Eden Gardens. The visitors have a rather dismal record at Eden. RR have lost their six previous IPL games at the hallowed ground, with their only win coming way back in 2008.
KKR Probable XI: Sunil Narine, Chris Lynn, Robin Uthappa, Nitish Rana, Dinesh Karthik (capt & wk), Andre Russell, Shubman Gill, Javon Searles, Kuldeep Yadav, Prasidh Krishna Piyush Chawla.
RR Probable XI: Rahul Tripathi, Ajinkya Rahane (capt), Sanju Samson, Heinrich Klaase, Stuart Binny, K Gowtham, Jofra Archer, Shreyas Gopal, Ish Sodhi, Jaydev Unadkat, Ben Laughlin.
Looking at the head-to-head record, RR's record at Eden, and the fact that KKR are playing at home, we're going with Kolkata.
(Inputs from PTI)