One of the most awaited clashes of the Indian Premier League's season five will unfold when two teams sitting on top of the points table – Delhi Daredevils and Kolkata Knight Riders – meet at Delhi's Feroz Shah Kotla Ground on Monday. With both the teams through to the playoffs, a win for either will assert its supremacy over the other leading up to the knockout stage.
It won't be wrong to admit that just like Delhi, Kolkata is turning out to be the epitome of competitiveness this season. And the kind of camaraderie Gautam Gambhir has built around his boys has helped the team to script a revival of sorts.
The season has seen Kolkata put in some good performances. Their unit consists of some big names, who – besides playing stellar roles to take the team to No. 2 on the leaderboard – have played their part in guiding the youngsters along. If Gambhir and Kallis have fine-tuned the batting, Brett Lee has shown youngsters the way as their bowling spearhead. As a result, batsmen like Debabrata Das and bowlers like Sunil Narine have become household names.
While Delhi Daredevils sit on top of the tree with 16 points, KKR are close on their heels at second with 15
But there have been a few bumps on the way to registering seven wins out of the 11 matches they have played so far. Proven performers like Brendon McCullum and Yusuf Pathan have flopped so far, along with some average performance from Indian allrounders Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Iqbal Abdullah and Rajat Bhatia. But nobody complains when the team is winning. However, these names have to be at their best when confronting the might of Delhi in their backyard.
With 16 points, Delhi have enjoyed the view from the top of the points table for most of this season, coming out victorious with some jaw-dropping performances in eight of their 10 outings. The team, under the captainship of Virender Sehwag, has given its best with both bat and ball. Sehwag, the tournament's second highest run-getter, has scored five consecutive half-centuries – a feat never achieved before in Twenty20 cricket. Same can be said about Kevin Pietersen, who has been instrumental in Delhi's success; however, he won't be available further in the tournament as the English batsman has flown back home to take on the West Indies.
Pietersen's place in the eleven will be taken by the Australian opener David Warner who, along with Mathew Wade, has joined the Delhi squad after honouring national duty in the Caribbean. And the Aussie left-hander is almost certain to open the batting, pushing Jayawardene down the order to provide solid company to Ross Taylor in the middle order.
Delhi’s bowling is equally impressive and is spearheaded by Purple Cap-holder Morne Morkel along with Indian international stars Umesh Yadav, Irfan Pathan and Ajit Agarkar. And they have found a new star in left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem, who has displayed nerves of steel even when confronting some intimidating names. The diminutive bowler has answered his captain's call with some courageous spells even in the Powerplays.
So the battle ground Kotla will be on fire when these two in-form teams come one-on-one. But the loyalty of the fans may be divided on Monday as both the captain and co-owner of KKR hail from Delhi. On that front, it remains to be seen whether the Delhi crowd gets behind Gambhir and Shah Rukh Khan's team or shout for the home team that has done them proud this season.
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Gautam Gambhir (capt), 2 Brendon McCullum (wk), 3 Yusuf Pathan, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 Manoj Tiwary, 6 Debabrata Das, 7 Laxmi Ratan Shukla, 8 Iqbal Abdulla, 9 Marchant de Lange, 10 Sunil Narine, 11 Rajat Bhatia
Delhi Daredevils: 1 Virender Sehwag (capt), 2 David Warner, 3 Mahela Jayawardene, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Irfan Pathan, 6 Yogesh Nagar, 7 Naman Ojha, 8 Shahbaz Nadeem, 9 Morne Morkel, 10 Umesh Yadav, 11 Ajit Agarkar