Kolkata: The buzz is back around the Eden Gardens for the two play-off matches of IPL 2022 on Tuesday-Wednesday, with the IPL returning to the city after a gap of almost three years - through the weather forecast is threatening to play a spoilsport. Table toppers Gujarat Titans will take on second-placed Rajasthan Royals in the first Qualifier on Tuesday while Lucknow Super Giants face Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Eliminator the day after.
The refreshing look about the line-ups, which includes both the newcomers, a galvanised Royals who have given themselves a chance at glory after years and the presence of Virat Kohli in pursuit of the elusive silverware has really given the upcoming matches a new spin. There is a huge demand for tickets, with reports of them going at a premium at the grey market doing the rounds, while there is a silent prayer that rains should not turn either of the matches into truncated contests.
The Titans have been a revelation in their first season, with their biggest plus point of not relying on any particular star and almost everyone putting their hands up at some point to seize the opportunities for their team. The way Hardik Pandya grew into his role as a captain over the last two months - showing the way as a performer and assigning specific roles for his players - has worked well for the side and they would look to continue in the same vein in the high pressure game.
Royals, on the other hand, have been overtly dependant on Jos Buttler - who began with a flourish with two centuries in his first seven games before slowing down. It looked at one stage that the England batter would be posing a serious challenge to Kohli’s all-time high total of 973 runs in 2016 season, but he had been struggling to get his timing back in recent times.
The ‘Pink Army’ still looks a more well-rounded team on paper with young Yashasvi Jaiswal learning to take more responsibility this season, skipper Sanju Samson, Shimron Hetmyer in top order and a potent new ball attack in Trent Boult, Prasiddh Krishna and arguably the best spin attack in Ravi Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal among the teams. When a single franchise boasts of leaders in the race of both the Orange Cap (Buttler) and Purple Cap (Chahal), it’s surely an indicator of the balance of the team.
The Titans, meanwhile, can boast of enough inside knowledge of the conditions at the Eden with two of their senior pros, wicketkeeper-batter Wriddhiman Saha and Mohammed Shami having played all their first class cricket for their home state Bengal here. Both have played pivotal roles in their campaign, with Saha getting a bow after the first five games and shinning for the Titans in the powerplay with 312 runs while Shami had been the leader of their pace bowling unit with 18 wickets so far. Opener Shubman Gill, who also had a decent run, has spent four seasons with Kolkata Knight Riders and can throw in his inputs on the Eden wicket.
There is an air of anticipation about how the fresh Eden wicket will behave, with the groundstaff retaining a speck of grass to keep the wicket firm and aid strokeplay. What could, however, be of concern is that if the square needs to be covered with forecast of rains on Monday-Tuesday, there may be sweating and it could benefit the quality spinners of either sides as the game progresses.
The toss can play a crucial factor as it may be a better idea to bat first and set up a par total - in case the wicket slows down later and chasing becomes tricky in a knockout game.
Catch the match
Gujarat Titans vs Rajasthan Royals
Venue: Eden Gardens, Kolkata
Start: 6 pm UAE