Giant-killers Kochi up against table-toppers KKR
A few days ago Kochi Tuskers were all about a struggling bunch.
After a couple of meek performances — against Royal Challengers Bangalore and fellow debutants Pune Warriors India — many wrote them off saying they were the weakest team in IPL Season 4.
But things have changed dramatically after two matches.
After beating heavyweights Mumbai Indians and holders Chennai Super Kings, Kochi have suddenly become giant-killers from underdogs.
In match where Sachin Tendulkar hogged the limelight with his first IPL century, Mahela Jayawardene and Co spoiled the maestro`s party with a mind-boggling eight wicket win.
It was the performance of their openers Brendon McCullum and Jayawardene that enabled the team to chase down the stiff target of 183 against the Mumbai Indians without much fuss.
McCullum and Jayawardene launched a counterattack to Lasith Malinga and co as they put on a commanding century-plus partnership for a win that looked very easy in the end.
It was a performance that brought the Tuskers to everyone`s notice.
Up against another heavyweight in Chennai led by India`s man of the moment Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Kochi showed the same intensity.
It was the fourth anniversary of IPL — the day on which McCullum hit that memorable 158 in Knight Riders` jersey — and the New Zealander once again ensured an easy win.
In the rain-affected match, the explosive opener rose to the occasion, making a mockery of the seemingly below-par Duckworth-Lewis target of 136 in 17 overs for a seven-wicket win with two overs to spare.
If the win over Mumbai brought Kochi to the limelight, the latest win will surely give some jitters to table-leaders Knight Riders ahead of their match tomorrow.
Knight Riders had a similar start to their campaign, losing to the guile of Super Kings in their first outing.
But the new-look side under Gautam Gambhir in the remaining three matches have showed why they are billed one of the favourites this time with three clinical wins — against Deccan Chargers (away) and Rajasthan Royals (home and away legs) — to take the pole position.
Having turned the tide in their favour, Knight Riders will have some anxious moments against the resurgent Kochi, which has a former Knight in their ranks in McCullum.
That the Kiwi glovesman, with two man of the match performances under his belt, is in explosive form will surely give some sleepless nights to the Knight Riders.
It will be interesting to see what strategy the Knight Riders` think-tank in coach Dav Whatmore and mentor Wasim Akram put up against the McCullum.
In McCullum and skipper Jayawardene, Kochi have an explosive opening while in experienced former India players in Parthiv Patel, Ravindra Jadeja and Aussie all-rounder Brad Hodge, they have a formidable middle-order.
Their bowling — in Rudra Pratap Singh, R Vinay Kumar, Lankan Thisara Perera and old warhorse Ramesh Powar — may look the weak link but in the Twenty20 scheme of things it`s difficult to underestimate any.
After their `choke` in Chennai, Knight Riders have been uber cool in their approach.
Their top batsmen in Jacques Kallis, Gautam Gambhir, Manoj Tiwary have been solid.
Their bowlers too have hit the purple patch especially after Brett Lee and Shakib-al-Hasan joined to bolster the side.
The bowlers led by Laxmipathy Balaji`s three wicket haul bundled out Royals for 81 for an eight-wicket win in their previous match.
The former India seamer was at his vintage best with his outswingers that reminded of the 2004 India-Pakistan series.
Balaji and Shakib picking five in between them ensured a tight bowling for the Knights who also fielded well.
Against the spirited Kochi outfit, it will be a real test of their character.
In the middle of everything, a controversy is brewing over the Eden strip especially after both teams termed it "slow and low" after their last match where Royals were bundled out inside 100.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (c), Jacques Kallis, Manvinder Bisla, Manoj Tiwary, Yusuf Pathan, Eoin Morgan, Shakib-al-Hasan, Iqbal Abdulla, Rajat Bhatia, Brett Lee, Laxmipathy Balaji, Ryan ten Doeschate, Brad Haddin, James Pattinson, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Shreevats Goswami, Pradeep Sangwan, Shami Ahmed and Jaidev Unadkat.
Kochi Tuskers Kerala: Mahela Jayawardene (c), Brendon McCullum, Parthiv Patel, Brad Hodge, Ravindra Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Thisara Perera, Raiphi Gomez, Rudra Pratap Singh, Ramesh Powar, VVS Laxman, Sreesanth, Muttiah Muralitharan, Owais Shah, Steven Smith, Balachandra Akhil, Deepak Chougule, Gnaneswara Rao, John Hastings, Michael Klinger, Chandan Madan, Sushant Marathe, Steve O`Keefe, Tanmay Srivastava, Padmanabhan Prasanth and Yashpal Singh.
Start of play: 8pm local time.