Two-time champions Kolkata Knight Riders will be aiming to exploit Sunrisers Hyderabad's recent run of poor form when the two teams square off in what promises to be a high-octane second Qualifier of the Indian Premier League (IPL) at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Friday. While KKR ticked all the boxes during the business end of the tournament with four wins on the trot, table-toppers Sunrisers have slipped after finishing on top of the league table.
Call it complacency or the lack of performance from their middle-order, Sunrisers have lost four straight games, something that will be a cause of concern for Kane Williamson's brigade.
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Arguably the best bowling attack in the tournament with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Siddarth Kaul and Sandeep Sharma delivering consistently along with the immensely talented Rashid Khan, Sunrisers will like to extract whatever juice is available from the Eden Gardens track.
But with the momentum strongly in favour of Dinesh Karthik and Co who will also heavily bank on home advantage, it will need a special effort from the Kane Williamson-led side to stop the Kolkata juggernaut and return to winning ways.
First, to qualify for the playoffs eliminating Delhi Daredevils, Sunrisers' slide began in Pune, when their famed bowling attack failed to defend 180 against Chennai and then went on to lose to RCB, KKR and CSK in subsequent games.
Hyderabad's problem has been their batting which is heavily reliant on skipper Kane Williamson, the current 'Orange Cap' holder with 685 runs at 57.05 average.
Their latest defeat will hurt them the most as they had their match in the pocket with Chennai struggling at 113/8 inside 18 overs chasing 140 but Williamson's strategy to keep an over from Carlos Brathwaite at the death backfired.
The West Indian leaked 20 runs in the 18th over as Hyderabad will have the big selection headache of whom to fill in as the fifth and sixth bowler.
Bhuvneshwar (9 wickets) will also need to get his act together complement the wily Afghan wrist spinner Rashid Khan (18 wickets) as Williamson also have big holes to plug in the batting department. Siddarth Kaul (19 wickets) has been their best bowler of the season with consistent efforts at the start as well as death.
Out for a 'golden duck' in the last match, Shikhar Dhawan (437 runs) will have to rise to the occasion but it is the middle order that has created problems for Sunrisers.
Manish Pandey (284) and Yusuf Pathan (212) have been big flops and their inability to provide the necessary muscle in the middle overs is a concern.
There will be no such headache for Kolkata skipper Dinesh Karthik who will look to go unchanged unless there's any niggle in the lineup.
A surprise choice as Kolkata skipper after the departure of their most successful captain Gautam Gambhir, Dinesh Karthik is in the middle of the form of his life averaging 54.44 from 15 matches. Two wins shy of winning the title, Karthik will look to go full throttle in a standout season for the softspoken Tamil Nadu cricketer.
Their biggest strength has been the team's ability to stand up and perform in case someone fails.
Last night, opener Sunil Narine failed to give the team a fiery start but Andre Russell's 25-ball 49 not out ensured that they end on a flourish to eliminate Rajasthan Royals.
Narine was ineffective as a bowler too but the likes of Kuldeep Yadav (16 wickets) and Piyush Chawla (13 wickets) held on to their tasks while Russell and young Prasidh Krishna led the pace attack.
Both teams won each in the round-robin league. Since their defeat at home, Kolkata have come a long way and won in Hyderabad. The winners will face CSK in the IPL-11 summit clash in Mumbai on May 27.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Dinesh Karthik (C), 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 Searles, Apoorv Wankhade, Ishank Jaggi, Tom Curran.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: Kane Williamson (C), Shikhar Dhawan, Manish Pandey, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Wriddhiman Saha, Siddharth Kaul, Deepak Hooda, Khaleel Ahmed, Sandeep Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Shreevats Goswami, Ricky Bhui, Basil Thampi, T Natarajan, Sachin Baby, Bipul Sharma, Mehdi Hasan, Tanmay Agarwal, Alex Hales, Carlos Brathwaite, Rashid Khan, Shakib Al Hasan, Mohammad Nabi and Chris Jordan.
Match starts 7 PM IST.
(With PTI Inputs)