Kolkata: Table-toppers Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) will both be high on confidence after registering morale-boosting victories in their respective previous games, when they clash in an Indian Premier League (IPL) match at the Eden Gardens here on Saturday.
While KKR got the better of Rajasthan Royals by seven wickets in Jaipur, Punjab rode Chris Gayle`s blazing hundred to stymie Sunrisers Hyderabad`s three-game unbeaten streak and coast to a 15-run victory at home.
KKR had Nitish Rana -- who fired with bat and ball once again -- and their wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla to thank for the second triumph in a row.
Rana took two crucial wickets of Ajinkya Rahane and D`Arcy Short when both were looking good for a big score. With the bat, KKR`s most consistent player so far remained unbeaten on 35 to see them cross the line with ease.
Needless to say, Rana`s form augurs well for Dinesh Karthik`s men who also have Robin Uthappa among runs along with the captain himself.
Rana, who bagged the Man-of-the-Match award for the second game in a row, now has 162 runs in five matches at 40.50, and four wickets.
Backing up their batsmen, Kuldeep and Piyush kept it really tight the other day after they were handed the new ball. The pair returned combined figures of 2/41 in eight overs which is excellent in T20 cricket.
KKR`s worry would be the form of dashing Australian opener Chris Lynn who lasted just two balls against Rajasthan and departed cheaply without troubling the scorers.
Lynn has struggled against spin and was seen playing with a horizontal bat in only the second ball of his innings to K. Gowtham who castled him.
The likes of Punjab captain R. Ashwin and 17-year old Afghanistan offie Mujeeb Ur Rahman would be licking their lips when they bowl to him and it remains to be see how the Queenslander tackles them.
The other opener, Sunil Narine, has come good with his brisk cameos, but has shown susceptibility to shot-pitched deliveries, something Punjab would be aware of.
Coming to Gayle, the burly West Indian smoked 11 sixes en route his unbeaten 63-ball 104 to help his side post a challenging 193/3.
Hyderabad were never in the chase and lost comprehensively in the end. This was Gayle`s second consecutive match-winning innings after his 33-ball 63 against Chennai Super Kings.
Gayle`s innings was typical of him but in the manner in which he saw off Bhuvneshwar Kumar`s first spell and later unleashed a brutal assault on Rashid Khan`s legspin, underlined the reservoir of experience that came into play during the knock.
Besides Gayle, Punjab bat deep with the likes of big-hitting Aaron Finch, KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and ageing Yuvraj Singh in their ranks. Their bowling lacks experience, especially in the pace department. Mohit Sharma went for a lot of runs against Hyderabad and will have to get his act together against KKR.
Having played one match less than KKR, Punjab have so far just lost once in four outings and are placed third. The two teams have met 21 times before and KKR have a superior 14-7 head to head record.