Mohali: Defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders will travel to north India on Tuesday expecting to bag two easy points against hosts Kings XI Punjab, who are struggling to get their act together in IPL 6.
Punjab have had a miserable run in the last two matches. After starting their campaign with an impressive eight-wicket win over Pune Warriors India, they were delivered a 10-wicket hammering by Chennai Super Kings and lost to Rajasthan Royals by six wickets in another one-sided encounter.
KKR too haven't been consistent so far. They lost to Rajasthan and Royal Challengers Bangalore in a row after beating Delhi Daredevils in the tournament opener. However, Kolkata returned with a dominating performance in their last match against Sunrisers Hyderabad to win by 48 runs.
Such mixed run has meant that both KKR and Punjab remain in the bottom half of the leaderboard at sixth and seventh position, respectively. While KKR have four points, Punjab have just two.
But it will be a mistake if KKR were to take lightly a team that has Adam Gilchrist, David Hussey and Azhar Mahmood in its ranks. The problem facing Punjab, though, is that these giants are yet to deliver together. Gilchrist and Mahmood have remained a no-show so far, with Hussey falling just when he looked in control against Chennai and Rajasthan, scoring 41 on each of those occasions. Mandeep Singh and Manan Vohra have looked good but without the required runs to show for it.
That could mean a few changes in the batting line-up, with hard-hitting Paul Valthaty a likely replacement for Vohra. Among foreigners, Punjab have David Miller, Shaun Marsh and Luke Pomersbach. But to bring one of them in, either Gilchrist or Mahmood will have to sit out, which looks unlikely at this early stage of the tournament.
Just in case Gilchrist wants to bolster the batting, he could gamble with bringing in Miller for fast bowler Ryan Harris, but that would mean Hussey and R Sathish combining to perform the fifth bowler's role. Praveen Kumar will remain one of Punjab's chief sources of wickets, alongside Mahmood and Parvinder Awana. Legspinner Piyush Chawala should also retain his place considering the lack of spin options in the squad.
Kolkata will arrive here having restored their confidence which was shaken after losses to Rajasthan and Bangalore. Jacques Kallis, Gautam Gambhir and Eoin Morgan were KKR's impact players against Hyderabad. Kallis followed up his 41-run knock with three wickets, Gambhir scored his 18th IPL fifty and Morgan's lusty blows provided the push with his 21-ball 47 in the death overs.
Two players that Kolkata will love to turn up with power-packed performances on Tuesday will be Yusuf Pathan and Manoj Tiwary. The two Indians form the core of KKR's middle order but haven't done anything yet this season to worry their opponents.
KKR bowling looks good, led by Sunile Narine and Kallis. L Balaji is yet to hit a consistent line but remains an important part of the bowling set-up, as does Rajat Bhatia's intelligent variations. Gambhir chose to pair Narine with Sri Lanka's Sachithra Senanayake in the last match but may want to bring in a pacer in his place considering the fast-paced track here at the PCA stadium. That could mean Brett Lee coming back into the attack in case he is match fit, but if he isn't, Ryan ten Doeschate could get his first game in IPL 6.
Kings XI Punjab: 1 Adam Gilchrist (capt/wk), 2 Paul Valthaty, 3 David Miller, 4 David Hussey, 5 Mandeep Singh, 6 Azhar Mahmood, 7 Gurkeerat Singh Mann, 8 R Sathish, 9 Piyush Chawla, 10 Praveen Kumar, 11 Parvinder Awana
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Gautam Gambhir (capt), 2 Manvinder Bisla (wk), 3 Jacques Kallis, 4 Eoin Morgan, 5 Yusuf Pathan, 6 Manoj Tiwary, 7 Laxmi Ratan Shukla, 8 Rajat Bhatia, 9 Brett Lee/Ryan ten Doeschate, 10 Sunil Narine, 11 Lakshmipathy Balaji