Pune: Pune Warriors India can pull the plug on Kolkata Knight Riders' play-off hopes on Thursday when they take on Gautam Gambhir's team for the first time in the sixth season of the IPL. While Pune are already out of the play-off race, Kolkata's hopes hang by a thread.
A loss in the last match against Mumbai Indians means Kolkata now need to win each of their last four matches by a big margin and hope the other results also pan out in their favour. But with a net run rate of -0.273, the defending champions are hoping against hope.
Pune, on the other hand, are playing for pride and at best can prove to be party poopers for those still in with a chance to make it to the next stage. Having lost 10 of their 12 matches, Pune are at rock bottom on the leaderboard.
Virtually out of the play-off race, defending champions KKR will have to overturn their dismal away record to keep their campaign alive.
Kolkata were whipped by Mumbai in their last match and can't afford to take on Pune lightly, especially considering they have lost all the six matches they have played away from home this season.
Gambhir started the series promisingly with three fifties, but his batting form has gone downhill since then, which has been the story of their batting so far. Jacques Kallis, Eoin Morgan, Yusuf Pathan have all had flash-in-the-pan performances, which isn't enough for a side to keep winning.
That has put added pressure on Kolkata bowling, led by the mysterious Sunil Narine who has been Gambhir's chief source of wickets. Not only has Narine proved difficult to hit but has also picked 16 wickets. High hopes were attached with Brett Lee but he hasn't been given a consistent run this season. The other specialist pacer in the squad, Balaji, has taken just six wickets. Kallis (11) and Rajat Bhatia (10) have been among the wickets but have failed to click away from home.
Ryan McLaren who was spanked by Mumbai all over the park is the only likely replacement on Thursday. He could give way to Lee.
Pune, though, have failed to click both at home and away. Just two wins in 12 games shows them in very poor light but their big hopes Yuvraj Singh and Robin Uthappa haven't found the middle of the bat often, and bowling has been of pretty average standard.
The loss against Rajasthan Royals in the last match was their seventh straight in a row and against Kolkata they will be in for another test, though the defending champions have been from their best this season.
Aaron Finch, who has been elevated as captain after Angelo Mathews chose to step down, is the only batsman who looks like getting runs. Uthappa has a couple of half-centuries under his belt but hasn't scored consistently on the top. Yuvraj has turned out to be the flop of the season. Other than Uthappa and Finch, no other Pune batsmen has scored a fifty so far.
Pune bowlers haven't been able to check the scoring rate, let alone take wickets. Ashok Dinda has been the chief culprit, failing to learn from his mistakes. Needless to say, they will need a lion-hearted effort to beat Kolkata, who will come out firing to keep their campaign alive.
Pune Warriors India: 1 Aaron Finch (capt), 2 Robin Uthappa (wk), 3 Yuvraj Singh, 4 Mitchell Marsh, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Mahesh Rawat, 7 Udit Birla, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Wayne Parnell, 10 Krishnakant Upadhyay, 11 Rahul Sharma.
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Manvinder Bisla (wk), 2 Gautam Gambhir (capt), 3 Jacques Kallis, 4 Yusuf Pathan, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Debabrata Das, 7 Rajat Bhatia, 8 Iqbal Abdullah, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Sunil Narine, 11 L Balaji.