It would be strange if a player of Virat Kohli’s calibre ends up without an IPL title. Although as a batsman he will have more opportunities, this will be skipper Kohli’s last chance to lay hands on the coveted trophy as he has already decided to step down from the role after this edition of the tournament. Knowing Kohli well, there’s little doubt that he will go all out for that.
However, Kohli will definitely not get a free run and will need all his leadership skills to come into play to stop the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), who are galloping like a racehorse, when the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) face them in the Eliminator at Sharjah on Monday.
The Knights have looked a different unit from the moment they stepped on the UAE shores as they transformed from also rans to title contenders over the past one month. KKR began their campaign in the second leg without their leading pacer Pat Cummins and also missed the services of their key players Andre Russell and Lockie Ferguson, due to injuries for a few matches. Skipper Eoin Morgan remained their most underperforming player in this phase, but yet they looked invincible. If Shubman Gill and Venkatesh Iyer are setting things up, Nitish Rana and Rahul Tripathi are building on that.
However, the real battle of the Eliminator is expected to be between KKR spinners and RCB batters. The mystery duo of Varun Chakravarthy and Sunil Narine have so far restricted their opponents well mainly in the middle overs along with picking up important wickets. But they will have their task cut out against the likes of Kohli, Glenn Maxwell and AB de Villiers, any one of whom can take the match away on his day.
It is Maxwell who has so far been the fulcrum of the side. The consistent Aussie has been the fifth top scorer in the league in this year’s edition with 498 runs. Not only that, he provided the platform and confidence to wicketkeeper-batsman KS Bharat to finish off the game against Delhi Capitals with a last-ball six. “This gives us the confidence that we can pull off a game from any situation,” Kohli had rightly said after Friday’s win.
The RCB’s high-profile batting unit also has a score to settle after being bowled out for 92 only, when they last played KKR. Kohli’s bowlers should also be wary of the fact that KKR got 171/4, the highest score on the slow Sharjah track in their last match.
But KKR think-tank will have a selection dilemma with Russell looking most likely to be available for this crunch game. The West Indian allrounder, who appeared for a fitness test, was seen both batting and bowling at the nets this week. But it will not be easy to fit him now in a well-oiled unit.
With both sides sharing the spoils this season and everything to play for, it’s time to look forward to some exciting brand of cricket.