The first qualifier between Kings XI Punjab and Kolkata Knight Riders on Tuesday has all the makings of a fascinating contest. One of the key reasons for the same is the contrasting paths that the two sides have taken to reach here. While Punjab have all but steamrolled opponents, only faltering a couple of times, en route to ending up as the number one side after the play-offs, Kolkata stumbled shockingly first, and recovered equally spectacularly later. In fact, their comeback, just Mumbai Indians, was so astonishing, that they ended up in number two spot, toppling Chennai Super Kings on the way.
Glenn Maxwell: Punjab have depended so heavily on Maxwell in the tournament, they would be expecting another spectacular knock from the big-hitting Aussie in the crucial clash. He may not have scored a lot of runs in recent games, but the fact is that there wasn’t much challenge for Maxwell since Punjab had found themselves in a cosy position very early on in the tournament. However, on the big day, how he performs will matter a lot.
Robin Uthappa: He began the event as the Uthappa of old, raising hopes only dash them. But, as the tournament has progressed, he has only improved, so much so that he has taken over the Orange Cap from Maxwell. In fact, Uthappa hasn’t tasted a failure in the last nine games. More impressively, he has led the team to victory with some responsible knocks even while being attacking. If Punjab want to look at a positive it could be that Uthappa is bound for a poor score. But the spectacular form that he has been in, Punjab would have to bowl excellently to see the back of him
Sunil Narine: The West Indian spinner hasn’t had a sensational IPL, but he has been effective yet again. From the match point of view, his past performance is extremely crucial, for he is the one who has stopped Maxwell in this IPL. In both the matches that were played between the two sides, Narine strangled Maxwell, and did not allow the other batsmen to get away as well. In that sense, Narine’s four overs could be extremely significant to the result of the match.
Yusuf Pathan: Till a few games back, Pathan wasn’t being viewed among the key players for Kolkata. But, times have changed for sure, and quickly. Pathan played an unbelievable knock in the last game against Bangalore, even by his own standards of old, which ensured that Kolkata leapfrogged to the second position in the points table. Kolkata would be hoping for an encore against Punjab in the first qualifier.
Previous encounters in IPL 7
In the first match between the two sides, KKR restricted Punjab to 132 for 9, but themselves collapsed to 109 to hand Punjab another easy win. But, in the second clash between them, KKR chased down a target of 150 with nine wickets in hand.
--By A Cricket Analyst