Batting has been a strength for the Punjab Kings, but since the start, they have lost momentum in the play-off race. The lack of clarity regarding the characters is understandable. For example, they have at least four specialist openers in the squad, but in the previous match against Mumbai Indians, the non-opener was opened with Mandeep Singh, while Chris Gayle and Aiden Markram batted the order.
Gayle will no longer be in the squad as Jamaica, tired of balloons before the World T20, took a short break. Don’t worry though, in-form opener Mayank Agarwal will return — after a straight exchange with Mandeep Singh — a tight neck and rejoin the top with Rahul. For the past two years they have been the most consistent and most prolific starting pair in the league. But repeatedly failed to build on a middle order foundation. In this regard, the emergence of Markram is good for them. In the last two games South Africa have adapted smoothly to the demands of their middle-order liberator and the league and the conditions in the UAE. If Nicholas Pooran could restore his brilliance, they could be a formidable group. Again, you get the impression that there are a lot of top-order batsmen in the middle-order.
Deepak Hooda’s dull form is another concern, so they will be tempted to replace him with Tamil Nadu all – rounder Shahrukh Khan, whose off-breaks are more beautiful than Hooda’s trip. Gayle is likely to be replaced by Jamaican Fabian Allen, who has not set the IPL on fire.
Will Russell play?
The Kolkata Knight Riders added a series of successful stretches and boosted their play-off hopes as they looked far from India-Leg. Since entering the UAE, they have won three of their four matches brilliantly, but their only defeat was a two-wicket defeat at the hands of the Chennai Super Kings. Much of their revival is the resurgence of Sunil Narine, the effective potential of Loki Ferguson and the resumption of Venkatesh Iyer.
However, they are frustrated with the fitness of all-rounder Andre Russell, who pulled the strings. Although he does not match his usual standards, and is inconsistent with the bat and ball, he misses his final playoff push, he is a proven big match player. Dinesh Karthik is not too optimistic about Russell’s comeback in this game. “I’m not sure about Andre Russell’s injury because it’s still in progress. As far as I know he was scanned,” he said.
However, he was more optimistic about Ferguson playing the game after the Kiwis left the field in the last game. “We hope that Lucky Ferguson’s injury is not serious and that he will be fine,” he said. If Ferguson is missing out, Shakib-al-Hassan, who has tremendous resources, is an attractive alternative, but they may prefer a medium-pace option called Ben Cutting.
There may also be one or two adjustments in the pace-bowling department, with Pradeep Krishna likely to eliminate the unstable Sandeep Warrior who looked depth in the tour over the Delhi Capitals.
Probably the XIs
Kolkata Knight Riders: Shubhman Gill, Venkatesh Iyer, Rahul Tripathi, Nitish Rana, Ion Morgan (captain), Dinesh Karthik (wk), Sunil Narine, Tim Southee, Lucky Ferguson, Prasidh Krishna / Sandeep Warrior, Varun Chakraborty
Kings of Punjab: Rahul (capt, wk), Mayank Agarwal, Aiden Markram, Nicholas Pooran, Deepak Hooda / Shahrukh Khan, Fabian Allen, Harpreet Brar, Ravi Bishnoi, Nathan Ellis, Arshadeep Singh, Mohammad Shami