Dubai: It’s a do-or-die battle for Punjab Kings against a resurgent Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Friday.
KL Rahul’s men are now pushed against the wall - more by their own doing than the brilliance of their opponents.
In two of the last four contests, Punjab frittered away their chances and pulled off defeat from the jaws of victory.
They suffered narrow losses against struggling Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals with their only win coming against bottom-placed Sunrisers Hyderabad.
On current form, it would be a Herculean task for Punjab Kings to overcome a Kolkata outfit that has already hit top form and gearing up for the play-offs.
Punjab have a major worry to contend with in all three departments of the game and unless there is complete change of attitude, especially from the middle order batsmen, it will be difficult to put pressure on the Knight Riders, who have got the right combination in both batting and bowling departments.
Rookie Venkatesh Iyer’s form with the bat and ball has given captain Eoin Morgan a happy problem at a time when he is having a real big headache with his own form.
The England skipper, however, did not allow his form to cloud his judgement as the skipper and has marshalled his resources well to guide them to comprehensive wins over Royal Challengers Bangalore, defending champions Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals, losing off the last ball to Chennai Super Kings.
Kolkata bowling will certainly be a handful for Punjab, who rely heavily on captain Rahul once again - more so as 'Universe Boss' Chris Gayle has pulled out of the team due to bubble fatigue on Thursday.
The West Indian, who had been largely subdued this season, wants to freshen himself up for the T20 World Cup which follows immediately after the IPL.
Mastering the conditions
Andre Russell, Sunil Narine and Varun Chakravarthy have utilised the conditions to perfection. Such is the bowling strength of Kolkata that spin ace Kuldeep Yadav was benched for the last two seasons, until he had to take a break due to knee surgery.
Punjab can take solace from the fact that Kolkata will be playing their first game at the Dubai International Stadium, while Punjab did extremely well in the ground against Rajasthan Royals before a splendid last over by Karthik Tyagi ended their hopes.
On form, Kolkata should have it easy against Punjab, which would put Mumbai under increased pressure to stay in the chase.