Bangalore: Less than a week into the fifth season of the lucrative IPL, Kolkata Knight Riders find themselves in a familiar predicament – two matches, two defeats, and another poor start to the tournament. Going into their third match against a much fancied Royal Challengers Bangalore, who picked up a comfortable win in their campaign opener and can only get stronger with the return of Tillakaratne Dilshan and the hopeful return of Chris Gayle, Gautam Gambhir's struggling team have a huge challenge to overcome.
Comparing the two sides, Bangalore look the more formidable unit with better all-round players. Their bowling is distinctly superior to Kolkata's, with Zaheer Khan and Vinay Kumar proving a good Indian pace attack, followed by Daniel Vettori and Muttiah Muralitharan, two of the best Twenty20 spinners in the business. With the bat, even in the absence of an injured Gayle, they have a strong line-up comprising Andrew McDonald, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Saurabh Tiwary and Dilshan, who has arrived from Sri Lanka and should slot into the playing XI.
Bangalore, at fourth in the points table following their 20-run win over Delhi Daredevils on Saturday, will hope that Gayle is fit to play. If he is not, the Victorian allrounder Andrew McDonald – who hit two sixes in a 19-ball 30 against Delhi – should hold his place, with Dilshan returning to partner him as opener. In this scenario, Bangalore will have to drop one of Cheteshwar Pujara and Mayank Agarwal. The two batsmen swapped roles in Bangalore's opener but there is a possibility that Agarwal could edge out Pujara, on the basis of his performance in the previous game and considering he can hit a longer ball. de Villiers, whose unbeaten 64 set up victory over Delhi, will hope Kohli and Tiwary provide a better platform.
The likely return of Dilshan and Gayle is a bad sign for a struggling Kolkata franchise.
Should Gayle be passed fit, he and Dilshan will prove a major threat for Kolkata. However, for the belligerent duo to be joined together, RCB will have to drop Muralitharan, given the cap on overseas players. Vettori cannot be dropped because he is captain, and the prospect of having Gayle, Dilshan and de Villiers in the line-up is a priority the team cannot ignore. It is a problem of plenty for the management. Should Gayle and Dilshan play, Murali could be replaced by slow left-arm spinner J Syed Mohammad or medium-pacer Sreenath Aravind, both of whom who have tasted success for RCB before.
Kolkata, with two defeats in a row, need to shake up their act. Most glaring has been their top order, failing to prove starts - KKR have lost their first wicket inside two overs on both occasions. In the second match, they slumped to 8 for 3 after losing their top order in the space of three deliveries. Brendon McCullum has been out lbw to left-arm spin early in the innings twice, Gautam Gambhir has poked outside off stump twice to be dismissed for 16 and a first-ball 0, Jacques Kallis has yet to reach double-figures. Getting starts is imperative for Kolkata, for they cannot afford to have their top three play so poorly.
The bowling too has also been ordinary. Iqbal Abdulla, last season's Emerging Player of the Tournament, has yet to take a wicket while conceding runs at eight an over. Yusuf Pathan too has failed to make an impact, his economy rate being 11.66. Sunil Narine, the West Indies spinner, was also flat on his IPL debut against Rajasthan Royals. Narine will be persisted with, considering his recent international exploits and the money KKR forked out for him, but the team needs to rejig its line-up to accommodate Shakib Al Hasan. His left-arm spin and batting abilities would give the XI a much-needed boost. Should KKR look beyond Abdulla as the lead spinner, they have Sarabjit Ladda's legspin to consider.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Chris Gayle/Andrew McDonald, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Saurabh Tiwary, 5 AB de Villiers (wk), 6 Cheteshwar Pujara/Mayank Agarwal, 7 Daniel Vettori (capt), 8 Vinay Kumar, 9 Harshal Patel, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 J Syed Mohammad/Sreenath Aravind
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Jacques Kallis, 2 Brendon McCullum (wk), 3 Gautam Gambhir (capt), 4 Manoj Tiwary, 5 Yusuf Pathan, 6 Debabrata Das, 7 Rajat Bhatia, 8 Laxmi Ratan Shukla, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Sunil Narine, 11 Iqbal Abdulla/Sarabjit Ladda