Kolkata, Apr 23: Relegated to the bottom half after four defeats, defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders must raise their game as they face another struggling giant Mumbai Indians in second of their three back-to-back home fixtures in the sixth IPL here on Wednesday night (April 24).
Both the teams find themselves on the same side of the fence having lost their last two matches respectively. But a cracker of contest is on offer especially given that it would be Mumbai Indians veteran Sachin Tendulkar's 40th birthday.
With the senior most batsman showing glimpses of his class in his 47-ball 54 against Delhi Daredevils, the boisterous Eden crowd, which has been cheering for the Knight Riders so far, is set for a division of loyalty.
After back-to-back losses to Kings XI Punjab and Chennai Super Kings, Knight Riders title defence is in danger as they have slipped to seventh with four points and are struggling to make the top four.
In pursuit of the elusive title, Mumbai Indians (6 points) are no better as they lie sixth after their defeats to Rajasthan Royals and Daredevils.
But both the teams are a study in contrast.
If the Knight Riders are struggling with their batting, the letdown for Mumbai has been their bowlers who failed to defend 162 the other day, handing Daredevils their first victory after six losses and thus allowing Virender Sehwag to explode back to form.
By their own admission, Knight Riders batsmen were playing "schoolboy cricket".
In an 11-member team, the Knight Riders are virtually down to five players (Gautam Gambhir, Jacques Kallis, Eoin Morgan and the spin duo of Sunil Narine and Sachithra Senanayake) as the rest have not come good as yet.
Capping yet another poor season, Yusuf Pathan's selection defies logic, while the trio of Manoj Tiwary, Debabrata Das and Rajat Bhatia are nothing but ordinary.
It came as no surprise when an angry skipper Gambhir said that his team played "schoolboy cricket" to suffer a four-wicket loss to Super Kings.
With time running out fast for Gambhirs men, the Knight Riders might look at taking some drastic measures as they have some talented players such as Brendon McCullum, Manvinder Bisla and Iqbal Abdulla who are warming the dugout.
Narine was their trump card last season but the players have been able to solve the off-spinner's ‘mystery' this season.
Ravindra Jadeja did it in the last game, while against Kings XI Punjab, Manpreet Gony attacked the Windies off-spinner and the opposition players seem no more afraid to go after him.
It would be interesting to see Narine against the ‘master of spin' Tendulkar, who would look to step on to another milestone without much fuss.
For the big spending Mumbai Indians, the real problem is that they are yet to get a settled side, even as they boast of a stars on paper.
By making Ricky Ponting the skipper, they sometimes find themselves in quandary given the four-foreigner rule.
At times, Ponting looks like a liability quite similar to Adam Gilchrist for KXIP.
By his own standards, the Aussie greats last five outings (in ascending order) read a miserable: 4, 14, 0, 6 and 28, the last against Royal Challengers Bangalore being his highest so far.
It is wicketkeeper batsman Dinesh Karthik (256 at 42.66) and the ‘classy' Rohit Sharma (230 at 57.50) who have been the two pillars of their batting and are placed fourth and fifth in the leading run-getters list.
Tendulkar's return to form against Daredevils might just augur well as they would look to down the struggling Knight Riders.
Its a pity that their million dollar baby Glenn Maxwell is warming the dugout as the Aussie all-rounder, who fetched a cool USD one million in the players' auction, is yet to play a match.
Bowling has been a big letdown for the Mumbai outfit as the pace trio of Lasith Malinga, Munaf Patel and Jasprit Bumrah look pedestrians.
Seamer Dhawal Kulkarni, who took nine wickets in the Ranji Trophy final to help Mumbai to their 40th title, has been a surprise exclusion so far. Kulkarni took 30 wickets at 22.90 in nine matches this Ranji season.
In the spin department, Harbhajan Singh is also struggling for form and the senior off-spinner would be keen to turn it around at his ‘favourite' ground, while Pragyan Ojha would be eyeing a recall on the sluggish Eden wicket.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (captain), Yusuf Pathan, Jacques Kallis, Eoin Morgan, Manoj Tiwary, Debabrata Das (wk), Rajat Bhatia, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Sachithra Senanayake, Sunil Narine and Laxmipathy Balaji, Sarabjit Ladda, Brad Haddin, Iqbal Abdulla, Brett Lee, Brendon McCullum, Ryan McLaren, Pradeep Sangwan, Mohamamd Shami Ahmed, Manvinder Bisla and Ryan ten Doeschate.
Mumbai Indians: Ricky Ponting (captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Dwayne Smith, Dinesh Karthik, Rohit Sharma, Kieron Pollard, Ambati Rayudu, Harbhajan Singh, Jasprit Bumrah, Munaf Patel, Lasith Malinga, Abu Nechim, Akshar Patel, Aditya Tare, Aiden Blizzard, Amitoze Singh, Dhawal Kulkarni, Glenn Maxwell, Jacob Oram, Javed Khan, Jalaj Saxena, James Franklin, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Phil Hughes, Pawan Suyal, Pragyan Ojha, Rishi Dhawan, Suryakumar Yadav, Sushant Marathe and Yuzvendra Chahal.
Match Starts 8 pm IST