IPL 2016: Boosted by Raina's return, Gujarat Lions gear up for crunch KKR battle
Skipper Suresh Raina's return could not have been better-timed as Gujarat Lions, jolted by the tournament's biggest ever defeat, seek to revive their campaign when they face off with Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League in Kanpur in Thursday.
Kanpur: Skipper Suresh Raina's return could not have been better-timed as Gujarat Lions, jolted by the tournament's biggest ever defeat, seek to revive their campaign when they face off with Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League in Kanpur in Thursday.
The Knight Riders will be handicapped by the absence of in-from all-rounder Andre Russell, and Gujarat Lions will look to capitalise on the void at the Green Park, which will be hosting its first-ever IPL match.
In the pecking order, KKR are placed in second position with 14 points and a good positive net run rate, despite being humbled by Royal Challengers Bangalore by nine wickets in their last match.
The two-time former champions have won seven matches and lost five in 12 outings so far, and a win tomorrow will definitely bring them closer to a play-off berth.
In their maiden season, the Lions are at the moment occupying the fourth place with 14 points, but their net run rate is inferior to Knight Riders. They have also won as many games as the Gautam Gambhir-led side.
Lions, who started the season on an impressive note and even occupied the top spot for a while, experienced their worst day when they suffered a 144-run humiliation at the hands of Royal Challengers Bangalore last Saturday.
Blazing centuries from AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli left the Lions attack bruised and battered, and a shaken batting line-up was sent packing for 104 runs.
The time has come for Lions to regroup and the presence of Raina, who missed his first-ever IPL game since its inception in 2008 because of the birth of his first child, could work in their favour, considering that the left-handed batsman has been prolific in this slam-bang league over the past nine seasons.
Half of their worries will be taken care of if the dazzling opening combo of Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum fires.
Raina, Aaron Finch and Dwayne Bravo make the middle order look quite formidable, while bits and pieces players such as Ravindra Jadeja and Dinesh Karthik form the lower order of Lions' batting.
After a combined failure in their last appearance, Lions would be hoping for a better outing.
Lions' bowling attack was taken to the cleaners by the duo of de Villiers and and Kohli the other day, and it would need to show more discipline. They might also try out Dale Steyn and James Faulkner, who were not part of the RCB drubbing.
As far as KKR are concerned, they are also coming off a big defeat to RCB, and Russell's absence could hurt them. The 28-year-old limped off the field midway through their match against Royal Challengers Bangalore with a suspected injury to his left leg and did not travel with the squad that reached the city last evening.
Russell is the tournament's third highest wicket-taker with 15 scalps, and Knight Riders' fourth-highest scorer with 188 runs.
Apart from that, KKR have a steady playing XI with Gambhir, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan and Suryakumar Yadav forming the batting line-up that predominantly wears an Indian look. Shakib Al Hasan is the side's premier all-rounder.
The bowling department will be taken care of by pace spearhead Morne Morkel, Sunil Narine, Shakib and Piyush Chawla.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (capt), Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan, Suryakumar Yadav, Shakib Al Hasan, Piyush Chawla, Sunil Narine, Ankit Rajpoot, Morne Morkel, Chris Lynn, Colin Munro, Brad Hogg, Shaun Tait, Jason Holder, Umesh Yadav, Sheldon Jackson, Jaydev Unadkat and Rajagopal Sathish.
Gujarat Lions: Suresh Raina (capt), Dwayne Smith, Brendon McCullum, Aaron Finch, Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja, Dale Steyn, James Faulkner, Ishan Kishan, Praveen Kumar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Shivil Kaushik, Dwayne Bravo, Sarabjit Ladda, Amit Mishra, Akashdeep Nath, Paras Dogra, Eklavya Dwivedi, Shadab Jakati, Pradeep Sangwan, Jaydev Shah, Umang Sharma, Pravin Tambe, Andrew Tye.
Bengal opener Abhimanyu Easwaran, who was in the stand-by has been added to the main squad with stand-by pacer Avesh Khan also going back home with a fractured left thumb.
Finch will return to Australia from the West Indies to complete 14 days quarantine and is then likely to undergo surgery.
While players lost out on significant earnings, the BCCI copped a lot of flak for too much focus on the cash-rich league.