It's a clash of the titans between Delhi Daredevils and Kolkata Knight Riders in the first qualifier of IPL 5 at Pune's Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium on Tuesday. There is a lot at stake as the winners will reach the final to be played on May 27 at Chennai's Chidambaram Stadium.
Delhi finished the group stage on top with 11 wins, while Kolkata came in a close second with 10 wins. Both teams are going into the match high on confidence; Delhi more so, because of the return to form of their No. 4 batsman Ross Taylor. The New Zealand captain has scored a paltry 162 runs in 10 matches, but burst to life with a 26-ball 55 against Royal Challengers Bangalore last week to inspire confidence in himself and the team. Taylor's prolonged failure with the bat had Delhi's captain Virender Sehwag worried but he would be a relieved man now, knowing that one of the most dangerous batsmen in Twenty20 cricket could be back to his best.
Delhi's batting this season has been awe-inspiring. Sehwag became the first player in IPL history to score five fifties on the bounce, and he must be raring to go after a rest of two matches. David Warner, who joined the team after Kevin Pietersen left midway through the tournament for the home Test series against West Indies, has 246 runs in six matches at an average of 49.20, including a century. Mahela Jayawardene, who though is yet to make a profound contribution, gives a lot of security in the middle order with his vast experience and a great record in this format.
The winners will qualify for the final on May 27, while the losers will have another chance in the second qualifier.
Delhi's Indian contingent of Venugopal Rao, Naman Ojha and Yogesh Nagar too have caught the eye and then there is Irfan Pathan, who has played some very important cameos to give the team’s batting a formidable look.
Delhi's bowling matches their batting. The presence of South African quick Morne Morkel, who is the current holder of the purple cap with 25 wickets, has been massive so far. His pace and bounce has troubled most batsmen this season. Supporting Morkel are the Indian fast-bowling pair of Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron, and if the pitch in Pune turns out to be favourable to quick bowlers then it can be expected that Gautam Gambhir's team will be given a dose of chin music.
Kolkata boasts of a formidable bowling unit too, but the batting has been a concern. Gambhir has been in superb touch, scoring 556 run in 15 matches, including a feat of four fifties in a row, but there has been little support for him at the other hand. His opening partner Brendon McCullum and Jacques Kallis have been in and out of form, Yusuf Pathan has scored some runs in the last few matches but is still far from his best, and Manoj Tiwary is yet to play an eye-catching innings.
However, Kolkata's bowling makes up for the few weaknesses in the batting department. West Indies offspinner Sunil Narine has been a thorn in the opponent batsmen's flesh in his debut season. He has been unplayable and his 22 wickets in 13 matches at an economy rate of 5.14 manifests that a great deal. Kolkata also have Bangladesh allrounder Shakib Al Hasan and Iqbal Abdulla in their spin repertoire and the trio can create havoc for Delhi if the pitch in Pune turns out to be partial to slow bowlers. In Kolkata's last two matches against Pune Warriors India and Mumbai Indians, the three combined superbly to defend modest totals of 136 and 140 respectively.
Kolkata's fast bowlers may not have been as effective as their spinners but they cannot be discounted. Brett Lee and Kallis can run through any batting line-up on their day. Lee has not featured in Kolkata's last three matches and L Balaji, who played in the Aussie's stead, has turned in some stellar performances – especially in the last two matches where he gave away just 31 runs in his eight overs and took three wickets. On that form, Balaji is a favourite over Lee for this match.
Clearly, there is not much to choose between the two teams and the outcome of the match will be heavily influenced by the nature of the deck in Pune. However, a loss won't be the end of the road for either team as they will get to play another qualifier on May 25 against the losers of the tie between Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai on May 23.
Delhi Daredevils: 1 Virender Sehwag (capt), 2 David Warner, 3 Mahela Jayawardene, 4 Venugopal Rao, 5 Naman Ojha (wk), 6 Andre Russell, 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 Pawan Negi, 9 Morne Morkel, 10 Varun Aaron, 11 Umesh Yadav
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Gautam Gambhir (capt), 2 Brendon McCullum(wk), 3 Jacques Kallis, 4 Yusuf Pathan, 5 Shakib Al Hasan, 6 Manoj Tiwary, 7 Debabrata Das, 8 Rajat Bhatia, 9 Iqbal Abdulla, 10 Sunil Narine, 11 L Balaji