Kolkata: Buoyed by a record-levelling sixth win on the trot and the confirmation of their place in the playoffs, Kolkata Knight Riders will now gun for a top-two finish when they take on a resurgent Sunrisers Hyderabad in their IPL fixture here on Saturday.
In a season reminiscent of their triumphant 2012 campaign, Kolkata Knight Riders have emerged as the team to beat with some clinical performances, be it against formidable two-time former champions Chennai Super Kings or a misfiring Royal Challengers Bangalore.
For KKR, the challenge from here on would be to continue the awesome run, while Sunrisers Hyderabad would look to keep their playoff hopes alive in the concluding league match.
Sunrisers Hyderabad chased down Chennai Super Kings` 186 with six wickets and two balls to spare last night for a second consecutive win.
The brightest star in KKR`s campaign has been India discard Robin Uthappa has emerged as a frontrunner for the England-bound squad, while `perennial performer` Sunil Narine continues to fox the opposition batsmen with his guile to remain their trump card no 1.
The duo have been the backbone of KKR`s batting and bowling respectively but one cannot discount the performances of Shakib Al Hasan, Ryan ten Doeschate, Yusuf Pathan, Umesh Yadav and skipper Gautam Gambhir.
It was, however, an ominous start for KKR after they lost four matches in a row while chasing but Gambhir and Co shed the chokers` tag in style winning five in a row batting second.
KKR were tested when Virat Kohli put them in to set a total last night but there was no problem as Uthappa and Shakib`s blitz took them to a handsome 195/4 and RCB fell short by 30 runs.
Uthappa slammed an unbeaten 83 from 51 balls in a 121-run partnership with Shakib (60 off 38). Uthappa`s fifth half century took him past Glen Maxwell in the leading run-getters list and earned him a second man-of-the-match in two matches.
Later, Narine became the destroyer in chief and took the key wickets of Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and AB de Villiers en route to his 4/20 to seal a sixth win on the trot, a record they had only achieved in 2012.
While Uthappa dons the Orange Cap with 572 runs from 13 matches, Narine has the Purple Cap jointly with Bhuvneshwar Kumar with 20 wickets each.
David Warner`s elevation to open the innings in place of regular Aaron Finch has been quite an Uthappa-like masterstroke for Sunrisers Hyderabad who have bounced back from a three-match losing streak to post victories against RCB and CSK.
The Aussie slammed half-centuries in both the wins and the latest has come with an astonishing strike rate of 200.00, something that KKR would be wary of.
Warner (524 from 13 matches) has emerged as the leading run-getter for Sunrisers Hyderabad and occupies the third spot in the overall list behind Maxwell.
His partner and India opener Shikhar Dhawan is also in blazing form with two back to back half-centuries.
The main concern at the Eden turner for Sunrisers Hyderabad would be their spin attack which looks comparatively weaker in the inexperienced hands of Karn Sharma and Parveez Rasool after Amit Mishra was left out for leaking runs.
A win for SRH does not guarantee them a place in the playoff as with 14 points their progression or elimination would depend on the two matches each of Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai Indians both of whom are in contention.
With Kolkata hosting the first qualifier (on May 27), a top two finish will give KKR an advantage to play the match at Eden which has witnessed packed crowds with 70,000 odd crowd on both the previous occasions.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (captain), Robin Uthappa (wk), Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan, Shakib Al Hasan, Ryan ten Doeschate, Suryakumar Yadav, Morne Morkel, Umesh Yadav, R Vinay Kumar, Sunil Narine, Jacques Kallis, Andre Russell, Pat Cummins, Chris Lynn, R Vinay Kumar, Manvinder Bisla, Debabrata Das, Kuldeep Yadav, Sayan Mondal and Veer Pratap Singh.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: Darren Sammy (captain), David Warner, Shikhar Dhawan, Naman Ojha (wk), Aaron Finch, Venugopal Rao, Irfan Pathan, Karn Sharma, Parveez Rasool, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Dale Steyn, Moises Henriques, Jason Holder, Brendan Taylor, Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra, Srikkanth Anirudha, Ashish Reddy, Ricky Bhui, Manpreet Juneja, Chama Milind, Prasanth Parameswaran, Amit Paunikar and Lokesh Rahul.