Kolkata Knight Riders v/s Mumbai Indians

Eden Gardens, Kolkata
Head-to-head record: Kolkata 1-7 Mumbai

‘There goes Yusuf’s career…(KKR Pranks)’
Funny as it may seem, these two teams haven’t played each other yet in IPL 2012- this, despite some teams playing eachother twice in three days (much like 2011, where they did not play eachother till the last league game, and then faced eachother again in the playoffs within two days) 
Despite the one-sided record that Mumbai have over Kokata in the IPL (1-7: their only loss coming in a dead rubber league game before their semi-final in 2010), this promises to be an electrifying encounter, not only because it is at India’s biggest stadium, but also because there is much at stake for one of the two teams. The tables have turned this season, and Mumbai is no more the overwhelming favorite. 

Though there can hardly be a concept of weak and strong teams in T20 cricket, if one glances down the fixtures list to see which team has an easier route to the playoffs from here on- it’s a close call. The Knight Riders, thanks to some awesome form and consistent batting, are right at the top of a league that they will surely hope to win. After four years of heartbreaking failure and faulty team structure, it seems like Gautam Gambhir has managed to get the balance right for this underperforming group of superstars- by keeping team owner Shahrukh Khan completely out of things. Also, it helps that most of his overseas players are finding form at the right time (Kallis, McCullum) and that they possess the world’s hottest new mystery spinner- Sunil Narine. Nevertheless, they not only have two games against the desperate Mumbai Indians (home and away- including this one), but also face Champions and equally-desperate Chennai followed by their easiest fixture, arguably, against Pune away. Things may not be too easy, though, with most of these teams playing like they have nothing to lose- but the Knight Riders have beat the best in the business over the last few weeks, and they will enter every single game as favorites.

What’s the elbow-bend angle, again?
Mumbai Indians, meanwhile, arrive in Kolkata after a crunching loss against the marauding Royal Challengers. Things look bleaker for this team- who have pulled off the maximum number of close encounters this season (two last-ball wins against Deccan and Chennai) with luck favoring them at the right moments. What is clear, though, is that their losses have been extremely one-sided, and the team still looks a bit light in the head. Two games against Kolkata, followed by another game against torturers Bangalore and a final game against rivals Rajasthan- could well mean that Mumbai have the toughest four games to get over the line.

Kolkata Knight Riders:
The Knight Riders have been on a roll, thanks to the blazing form of openers Gambhir and (recently) McCullum- who has repaid the unlimited faith put in him by his captain. Kallis acts as a perfect foil for moderate chases, as does Tiwary, with the only grey spot in the team still being the enigmatic Yusuf Pathan. After losing their first two games of the campaign, Gambhir and co. have galloped to 8 wins in their next 10 games with just a solitary loss (against Kings XI) and a no-result game that has kept them in the top two throughout. What’s more, they’re coming off a morale-boosting table-topping win against favorites Delhi Daredevils, and will fancy their chances against an ailing Mumbai side- that can’t seem to get things right with their batting order. KKR are almost assured a spot in the playoffs, but they will not want to lose the momentum they have so painstakingly built up over the last few weeks- where they have undoubtedly been the best team in IPL 2012.
Player to watch out for: Sunil Narine
The West Indian mystery spinner- who has single handedly kept Bishoo out of the national side- is still to be figured out by the world’s best batsmen in this league. Consistently going at an economy rate of 5 and less, with atleast a couple of wickets every game, Narine is the man that keeps the opposition scoring rate down during the crucial middle overs. Shakib must be twiddling his thumbs on the bench, wondering what he has done wrong (after a man-of-the-series performance in the Asia Cup)- but even he must know that Narine is KKR’s calling card to the finals. 

Old is doing your hair when the world’s looking
Mumbai Indians:
Some interesting statistics about Mumbai Indians could be the primary reason for the consistent inability to set imposing totals: Their average run-rate during the first 5 overs this season is 5.58, while the run-rate in the 6th over is 10.58 (127 runs in 72 balls for the loss of just 1 wicket so far). What is most significant, though, is their failure to find a suitable opening pair this year- clearly evident through these stats: They have scored 86 runs in 144 balls at the loss of 9 wickets in their first two overs through this league. Sachin Tendulkar was out for quite a few games in between, but even after he has come back, there is no telling change in these statistics- with Mumbai Indians probably the slowest starters in the history of IPL cricket. That could be put down to their immeasurable faith in their big-hitting middle order dominated by Pollard, Smith and Rayadu- but none of these players get a fair chance to pull their team out of the ditch, thanks to Sachin’s slow trek back to form (when he often stays till the 10th over) and Sharma’s inconsistency. 
Captain Harbhajan Singh can only do so much with the considerable bowling firepower he has at his disposal- when his batsmen refuse to ever win a game comfortably for him. Truly, it is a wonder that they are on 14 points (doubles against clueless Pune and Deccan may have helped), and now- they must beat the cream of the pack to stay in contention for that playoff place, which suddenly looks far off for this ‘failure to launch’ pack of stars.
Player to watch out for: Kieron Pollard
After yet another instance provided by captain and management of how NOT to use the West Indian’s services (where he came to the crease in the 17th over), Pollard will undoubtedly be promoted up the order in one of these games. Harbhajan seems to have taken a leaf out of Sachin paaji’s captaincy booklet- determined to prove to the world their ability to win games without the big hitter’s services.
Schoolboy leadership, really, from a Champion’s League-winning captain. 

Look, Ma, no hands!
One doesn’t see Mumbai rising from the ashes of their Bangalore defeat- and this could mean a downward spiral, and the beginning of the end for the talented outfit. Kolkata, at home, could be too tough to overcome- especially with smart bowlers like Kallis, Lee and Narine at the helm. But, knowing Kolkata’s tendency to choke as much as Mumbai- it could be a ‘once a Bunny, always a Bunny’ case of blues for Kolkata if they let history dictate this game.

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