"Well, they are a quality side, they have beaten us twice, so hopefully we can give one back to them. It should be a good challenge and we should be up for it. We are hungry and want to do well against Mumbai Indians. We don't have a good record against them and we want to try and settle that as well," said Kolkata Knight Riders captain Gautam Gambhir after his team won the Indian Premier League (IPL) Eliminator against Sunrisers Hyderabad and set up a clash with Mumbai Indians in Qualifier 2.
The Eliminator had descended into the wee hours on Thursday. Gambhir guided Kolkata into the second Qualifier after the rain gods had them on the tenterhooks for nearly three-and-half hours in the dugout and the dressing room.
However, there was one thing playing on Gambhir's mind even during the post-match presentation — their poor record against Mumbai Indians. When asked about the Qualifier 2 encounter with MI, Gambhir stressed, not once but twice, on the fact that they have a poor record against Mumbai.
Sometimes losing repeatedly against a particular opposition can create a psychological impact or a block. It keeps playing on your mind again and again like the unavoidable and irritating advertisement tune which sticks in your head and you invariably end up humming it to your embarrassment. KKR seems to be in a similar headspace.
They have the worst record in the IPL against Mumbai Indians with 15 losses and just five wins from 20 matches with a win percentage of 25 percent. They have lost the last five matches against Mumbai. The last match they won against them was back in 2015 in the opening game of the tournament, at the Eden Gardens. No wonder Gambhir was hungry to settle the scores, but more than hunger, KKR will be desperate. And this is where there will be a big test of their mental strength.
There will be relief in the KKR camp after they scraped through into the play-offs after almost pressing the 'last moment self-destruct' button yet again. After seven wins in the first nine matches, they lost their track with just one win in the next five in the group stage.
KKR have plenty of power hitters in their line-up but somewhere down the line, they haven't been able to strike the balance between caution and aggression. The injuries to Robin Uthappa and Nathan Coulter-Nile didn't help. What has also hurt them is the overreliance on their top order. A big percentage of the runs have been scored by the top three — 60.78 percent of the team runs, second best after SRH's 68.92 percent — and whenever they have failed, the others haven't been able to provide the support and this is where the middle and lower order need to step up.
Their bowling in powerplay didn't inspire in the group stages as they took least number of wickets — 16, and went for 9.07 runs an over — second worst of all. They, however, made amends in the Eliminator giving away just 30 runs in the first six overs and clinching the wicket of Shikhar Dhawan which proved to be crucial.
KKR have fiddled with their batting order quite a bit and ever since Gambhir has pushed himself down the order to accommodate the returning Chris Lynn, his performance nosedived. He played a crucial’s knock in the Eliminator and took KKR over the line after an initial stutter.
While the gamble to open with Sunil Narine has worked, the West Indian all-rounder hasn't fired in the last two matches he has opened in. The opening slot presents a big dilemma for the KKR management. Perhaps, after the last match, they might go in with Gambhir, back as an opener. They, however, have suffered a huge blow with Manish Pandey being ruled out of the tournament due to a side strain he suffered during training on the eve the Eliminator. He had averaged 49.5 in the tournament and provided much-needed stability in the middle overs. Ishank Jaggi looked confident in his debut match, against SRH and the team management might decide to stick with him against Mumbai.
The Chinnaswamy track has changed drastically after being re-laid. The highest score at Bangalore this season is 161. There were twelve 180-plus scores last year with the average first innings total being 196. It has come down drastically to 145 this season. The pitch in the Eliminator was two-paced which slowed down immensely as the game progressed with the moisture on the pitch assisting the pacers early on. Overall, it has become a lot slower and the spinners might play a crucial role in Qualifier 2.
Mumbai Indians would have sat down and pondered over their strategy to leave out Harbhajan Singh in Qualifier 1 against Rising Pune Supergiant. They completely misread the pitch which ended up being on the extremely slower side. Mumbai haven't done much wrong in the tournament with everyone chipping in as and when required. Slow starts were their biggest concern. They had rectified it but have stuttered in the last four matches. Their batting let them down in the first Qualifier, and captain Rohit Sharma described it as their worst batting performance in the IPL so far. Their batsmen failed to read the pitch and severely lacked application.
The Bangalore wicket will be quite similar and the team management would be hoping that they have learnt their lessons. While Mumbai have been dominant for most of the tournament, in the four defeats they have suffered this season, they have failed to capitalise on crunch moments. A big loss can make an impact, especially going into a must-win match, and having lost the Maharashtra Derby in the first Qualifier, MI would look to hit the refresh button and get back on track.
Mumbai might look to bring back Harbhajan in place of Karn Sharma. The charismatic off-spinner has scalped 14 wickets in IPL knockout matches which is joint second most by any bowler and most by a spinner. KKR may not look to tinker with a winning combination.
This is KKR's chance to end the MI hoodoo but that, in turn, will instil more pressure. More than an on-field battle, it will be a psychological one. KKR have the required ammunition in their arsenal but all will all depend on whether they can overcome their mental block against their bogey team.
Harbhajan Singh has taken 14 wickets in the IPL knockout matches which is the joint second most by any bowler and most by a spinner.
Rohit Sharma's batting average of 23.58 in IPL 10 is the lowest for him in an IPL season. He has scored 283 runs from 14 innings in this edition so far.
Chris Lynn has hit 7.33 boundaries/innings in this IPL — the most by any batsman in this edition.
With stat inputs from Umang Pabari
Updated Date: May 19, 2017 11:56:47 IST