Table-toppers Kolkata Knight Riders and a transformed Kings XI Punjab cross swords in an Indian Premier League contest in which two big-hitting Jamaicans -- Andre Russell and Chris Gayle -- will be up against each other at Eden Gardens on April 21. The best of power hitters, the smashers, the googly artists and the spinners, the clash between KKR and KXIP have a long rivalry between the two celebrity owned franchises, Shah Rukh Khan's Kolkata and Preity Zinta owned Punjab.
Gayle was at his best last night when he smashed this season's first century -- a 63-ball 104 not out -- at the expense of one of the best bowling outfits, Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Gayle smashed 11 sixes, seven of them coming against the world's top ranked T20 international bowler Rashid Khan, and gave a fitting response to his critics after the humiliation he had faced at the last IPL auctions where he went unsold.
The 38-year-old enforcer, who represented Royal Challengers Bangalore and KKR, twice went unsold after 10 glorious years before the Virender Sehwag-mentored side gave him a lifeline.
Gayle still had to sit out the first two matches, but when his moment came he played two match-winning knocks, including a 63 against Chennai Super Kings.
"A lot of people said 'Chris has a point to prove'. Time waits for no one but I'm not here to prove anything to anyone. I just want to move on, enjoy my cricket," Gayle said.
The battle at the Eden Gardens will see Gayle facing the spin challenge of KKR with West Indies teammate Sunil Narine and India sensation Kuldeep Yadav leading the attack that also has Piyush Chawla and part-timer Nitish Rana.
Kings XI Punjab look a transformed unit under India discard Ravichandran Ashwin. They now seem to be on a mission with a top-heavy batting comprising KL Rahul and Gayle followed by the flair of Mayank Agarwal and Karun Nair.
In Australian Aaron Finch and Yuvraj Singh, they have two destructive finishers who are due for big knocks, and KKR would look for early breakthroughs to mount pressure on the duo.
Russell, another explosive Jamaican, singled-handedly decimated Delhi Daredevils in his 12-ball 41 in their last match at the Eden.
The biggest gain for the home side has been that of Mumbai Indians recruit Rana who got back-to-back Man of the Match awards in their wins over Delhi Daredevils and Rajasthan Royals.
The left-hander has showed fine temperament, forming the backbone of their batting, which wore an unsettled look at the start.
Rana's part time off-spin has also given the team some crucial breakthroughs -- his wickets of Virat Kohli (Royal Challengers Bangalore) and Ajinkya Rahane (Rajasthan Royals) bear testimony to that.
Their spinners bowlers 14 overs in Jaipur, accounting for five wickets to stall Rajasthan Royals to 160/8 en route to their five-wicket win.
Afghan's latest spin sensation Mujeeb ur Rahman will also be the one to watch out for.
The 17-year-old off-spinner has been able to fox batsmen, including Kohli, with his guile and has a tidy economy rate of 6.80 from four matches.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Dinesh Karthik (c and WK), Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, Chris Lynn, Robin Uthappa, Kuldeep Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Nitish Rana, Prasidh Krishna, Shivam Mavi, Mitchell Johnson, Shubman Gill, R Vinay Kumar, Rinku Singh, Cameron Delport, Javon Searless, Apoorv Wankhade, Ishank Jaggi and Tom Curran.
Kings XI Punjab: Ravichandran Ashwin (captain), KL Rahul, Chris Gayle, Mayank Agarwal, Aaron Finch, Yuvraj Singh, Karun Nair, David Miller, Marcus Stoinis, Axar Patel, AJ Tye, Mohit Sharma and Mujeeb ur Rahman.
(With PTI Inputs)