There is a sense of familiarity to the IPL 2017 Eliminator despite the neutral setting of the contest. Both Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kolkata Knight Riders have won an IPL title at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru, but one of them will bow out of the tournament here tomorrow. The other will stay back for stage two of their three-step path to the trophy.
The faint echo from the eliminator of 12 months ago lingers. But the narrative structure has subtly changed. Defending champions Sunrisers were always seemingly headed towards the eliminator with the Mumbai-Kolkata duopoly running away at the top. Gautam Gambhir’s men were cantering to a top-two finish before they strangely stuttered, to win just one of five games in the run-in. David Warner and Rahul Tripathi rained mayhem on them and unseen to anyone, Rising Pune Supergiant sneaked past the two teams into the first qualifier.
On the surface, there is very little to separate the two teams. Both won eight games in the league phase, and split the two games against each other. At the heart of this riveting battle of wits is a pair of mushy middle-orders. KKR have revelled in the bombast of Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan and Colin de Grandhomme. When they succeeded, they did so spectacularly. By the same token, they are also prone to fail spectacularly, which was the case against Mumbai Indians in their final league game. Their predicament reflects in the swings and roundabouts of batting-order shuffling necessitated by the successful Sunil Narine experiment.
Sunrisers aren’t better off in that regard. Yuvraj Singh’s injury should have had alarm bells clanging loudly but Vijay Shankar has shown that he is up for a middle- overs scrap, should it come to that on a sluggish Chinnaswamy wicket. David Warner and a fit Yuvraj aside, SRH may not be the most watchable batting side in the competition, but their knack of bloody-minded survival fits perfectly to the requirements of a knockout.
KKR function on their conviction, more than any other team, that they can adapt to any given situation. They can finish a chase in the powerplay, their spinners orchestrate chokes and the fast bowlers can blow an opposition out for 49. From that standpoint, their collective dip in potency is somewhat of a surprise. But it is clear, they cannot afford another batting meltdown, especially against a gun bowling attack.
Because, if KKR are to win their third IPL crown, they’ll have to do what they didn’t need to in 2012 and 2014 – win three knockout games on the bounce. And perhaps, that’s where Sunrisers hold the slightest of edge over their rivals – of having a survival kit for the longest route.
When: Sunrisers Hyderabad vs Kolkata Knight Riders, Eliminator, May 17, 2017 – 20:00 IST
Where: M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru
What to expect: Wednesday is expected to be a warm day in Bengaluru. But as has been the case for a couple of games now, there is a 20% chance of showers, forecast to hit around 8PM, which could disrupt the start of the game. If the rain denies a full game, the winner of a Super Over will progress to the Qualifier. If the conditions don’t even permit a Super Over, the team that finished higher in the regular season (SRH in this case) will progress.
The M. Chinnaswamy surface has been notorious for changing nature and producing low and two-paced wickets, with none of the six completed games played here producing a total in excess of 161. Teams will do well to pack their stocks with slow bowlers and seamers with change-of-pace variations.
History: KKR have won seven of their 11 matches against the defending champions. So, statistically, they will appear to have a strong grip on the match up. Except, two of Sunrisers’ victories have been last season’s eliminator and the most-recent clash between the two sides in Hyderabad.
SRH will monitor Yuvraj’s finger injury closely. If the southpaw is fit, he’ll slot in for the impressive Vijay Shankar. On what is expected to be a difficult track to bat on, Moody and Warner could be tempted to field Kane Williamson. But such a change will have to come at the cost of Mohammad Nabi’s all-round abilities, which they might not be willing to compromise on, unless pushed to an injury corner. The rest of the side picks itself.
Probable XI: David Warner (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Moises Henriques, Yuvraj Singh/Vijay Shankar, Deepak Hooda, Mohammad Nabi, Naman Ojha (wk), Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Rashid Khan, Siddarth Kaul, Mohammed Siraj
Kolkata Knight Riders
The usually consistent KKR have a few combination problems. Narine’s move to the top has been a resounding success but that has meant KKR have routinely played potentially three top-order batsmen – Gambhir, Uthappa and Pandey – in middle-order places. If pragmatism prevails over adventurism, KKR could revert to a Lynn-Gambhir combination for the decider, as conceded by the captain in the aftermath of the Mumbai defeat. Ankit Rajpoot’s cutters cost KKR only 25 runs in the four overs when they played RCB here recently, and that should keep him a spot in the eleven. Nathan Coulter-Nile bowled at full tilt on match eve and could return for the first time since the RPS game on May 3, when he copped a blow on the helmet.
It would help matters greatly if his extra pace can dispense off compatriot Warner swiftly. The SRH captain is the leading run-scorer of the tournament and appears to have a particular affinity for bowlers in a KKR jersey, and it is he who could be the only one standing between KKR fielding two wrist spinners in Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla.
Probable XI: Chris Lynn, Sunil Narine, Gautam Gambhir (c), Robin Uthappa (wk), Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan, Colin de Grandhomme, Piyush Chawla/Kuldeep Yadav, Trent Boult/Nathan Coulter-Nile, Umesh Yadav, Ankit Rajpoot
Did you know?
-> Chinnaswamy Stadium has the lowest run rate among all venues this IPL – 7.60. In comparison, it was the highest scoring venue last year with a run rate of 9.56.
-> Bhuvneshwar Kumar has taken most wickets against KKR – 21. He has dismissed Manish Pandey four times and Yusuf Pathan thrice but not yet dismissed Gautam Gambhir or Robin Uthappa.
-> SRH and KKR have two of the best average opening partnerships this season – 47.77 and 45.69 respectively.
What they said:
“We’re fully aware of the challenges that teams have faced here in Bangalore. Last year when we played the final here, if we didn’t get 200 plus, we weren’t in the contest. This year if you get 150-160, you’re very much in the contest. So you need to adapt, the way you play.”
– Tom Moody on the different challenges of playing on the relaid Chinnaswamy surface.
“We have to pull up our socks. It does not matter whether we are in the play-offs or not. If we have to win the tournament we will have to bat sensibly.”
– A livid Gautam Gambhir called for an improved batting show after KKR fell short in a gettable run-chase against Mumbai Indians.