Preview: Table-toppers Chennai Super Kings (CSK), who have looked a class apart so far, will start as hot favourites against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in an Indian Premier League (IPL) clash at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Thursday.
Back in the IPL after a two-year hiatus, the MS Dhoni-led outfit have till now won six games out of eight and just lost two.
Dhoni has led from the front, playing some blistering knocks including a 22-ball 51 in the last game against Delhi Daredevils which CSK won by 13 runs.
The star former India captain has looked every inch like his old self with 286 runs in eight matches at 71.50.
Dhoni rolled back the years with his 44-ball 79 against Kings XI Punjab, showcasing some of his trademark shots and showing glimpses of the flair which made him one of the best finishers of limited-overs cricket.
Though CSK lost that game, they never looked like a team struggling to get going in this competition.
Besides Dhoni, IPL-11's top-scorer Ambati Rayudu has been superb with the bat as well, amassing 370 runs at 46.25. In the last four matches, Rayudu has scores of 41, 46, 82 and 79.
Veteran Australian opener Shane Watson has looked good too with a century to his name against Rajasthan Royals, a team he won the inaugural IPL with in 2008.
Watson's 40-ball 78 in the last encounter underlined the fact that his big-hitting skills are still in the right place despite being on the wrong side of 30 and along with South African skipper Faf Du Plessis, they make a deadly combination at the top.
Du Plessis' compatriot Lungi Ngidi has added teeth to CSK's pace battery after returning to the fold following the demise of his father which had forced the 22-year old to rush home.
Ngidi played for the first time in CSK colours against Delhi and returned figures of 1/26. Besides Ngidi, the likes of Harbhajan Singh, and all-rounder Dwayne Bravo have also done well in games, giving the team an overall stability.
Coming to the hosts, KKR registered a morale-boosting six-wicket win against Royal Challengers Bangalore in their last game on the road.
After a harrowing 55-run loss against Delhi, Chris Lynn starred for Dinesh Karthik's KKR with an unbeaten 52-ball 62 as wrist spinners Piyush Chawla and Kuldeep Yadav also looked good.
KKR are fourth in the table with four wins and the same number of losses. They have looked good in patches so far and against a formidable side in CSK, the men in purple will have their task cut out.
KKR's consistent performer Nitish Rana got injured in the last game and had to be retired hurt for 15.
A lot will once again rest on West Indian all-rounder Andre Russell who has been KKR's go-to-man this season. Kuldeep and Piyush will have to weave their magic with the ball to restrict Chennai and look for early wickets along with mystery spinner Sunil Narine.
In their last meeting, CSK won a humdinger by five wickets with one ball to spare.
KKR don't have a good track record against CSK, losing 12 times out of a possible 19.
KKR: Dinesh Karthik (C/WK), Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, Chris Lynn, Robin Uthappa, Kuldeep Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Nitish Rana, Prasidh Krishna, Shivam Mavi, Mitchell Johnson, Shubman Gill, R Vinay Kumar, Rinku Singh, Cameron Delport, Javon Searless, Apoorv Wankhade, Ishank Jaggi and Tom Curran.
CSK: MS Dhoni (C/WK), Ravindra Jadeja, Suresh Raina, Kedar Jadhav, Dwayne Bravo, Karn Sharma, Shane Watson, Shardul Thakur, Ambati Rayudu, Murali Vijay, Harbhajan Singh, Faf Du Plessis, Mark Wood, Sam Billings, Imran Tahir, Deepak Chahar, Lungisani Ngidi, K.M. Asif, N. Jagadeesan, Kanishk Seth, Monu Singh, Dhruv Shorey, Kshitiz Sharma, Chaitanya Bishnoi.
With inputs from IANS