KOLKATA: Out of contention for a play-off berth, a brazen Rising Pune Supergiants will stand in the way of Kolkata Knight Riders' revival when they clash in an Indian Premier League T20 match here tomorrow.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni's side is the first team to make an exit in the ninth edition after they lost to Sunrisers Hyderabad in their previous match but left with three matches, the Supergiants will be keen to sign off on a high.
The Pune franchise is owned by a Kolkata businessman and they will make themselves feel at 'home' while a rejuvenated Knight Riders back after a five-day break will be desperate to arrest their slide.
From occupying the pole position midway into the season, KKR's slide begun after their loss to Gujarat Lions and they have slipped to fourth place and are now in the danger of slipping out of top four.
One of the big factors that's eluding KKR is Sunil Narine's X-factor something that has contributed to their triumphs in 2012 and 2014 with the off-spinner claiming 74 wickets in four seasons.
Back after a remedial action, the 'mystery' spinner Narine has only managed six wickets from six outings at an economy of 7.34 as the batsmen are no more afraid to go for big hits against him.
Narine also missed KKR's first two matches because of his father's demise and was nursing a finger injury to miss their last two matches, against Bangalore and Gujarat.
Lack of zing from an otherwise low and slow Eden Gardens track also meant that their spin strength has gradually fizzled out.
Keeping this in mind, the home team has prepared a rank-turner for tomorrow's match as Narine who was seen bowling hard at the nets may return to replace Brad Hogg.
But the ploy may also backfire against a team who have a potent spin attack in the Ashwin duo of Ravichandran and Murugan to go with Aussie leg-spinner Adam Zampa on a high after his six-wicket burst against Hyderabad.
For a team that normally goes with six bowlers, KKR would hope to make use of the conditions and restrict their opposition but at the same time skipper Gautam Gambhir may think of promoting Andre Russell up the order.
The scorecard may show that KKR had lost the plot against Gujarat after being 24/4 inside the Power-play to go down by five wickets while defending 158 but on that day their most explosive batsman Andre Russell could not get to bat.
While most of the teams opt for at least two foreigners as explosive batsmen, KKR seem contain with Russell coming down the order, while the likes of Chris Lynn and Colin Munro boasting 140-plus T20 strike rate warming the dug-out.
Needing two wins from four matches to seal a play-off berth, Gambhir may rethink his strategy of a bowling-oriented four foreigners' line-up.
On the other hand, Dhoni, who is at the helm of Pune franchise, has drawn a lot of flak for his bizarre decisions of late and it's high time that he takes more batting responsibilities and silence his critics.
Considered one of the best finishers of world cricket, Dhoni had Thisara Perera with him when they needed 22 from two overs but the skipper decided not to attack the impressive Bangladeshi left-arm pacer Mustafizur Rahman who conceded just eight runs in the 18th over.
Instead of an aggressive approach, Dhoni and Perera preferred to go for safe shots of ones and twos and risked the match into the last over as Sunrsisers Hyderabad won by four runs, defending a paltry 137.
While most of his counterparts are leading from the front, Dhoni's contribution with the bat has been minimalist with 212 runs from 10 innings at an average of 30.28.
The Indian skipper is also being blamed for under-utilising his one-time trusted lieutenant R Ashwin who has not completed his four overs quota in 10 of his last T20s, including five matches for Pune.
The otherwise enigmatic Dhoni has raised serious questions with not promoting himself in tough situations -- like while chasing 138 he instead promoted Ashwin to No. 4 against Hyderabad.
Thus it remains to be seen how the most successful Indian captain who has pulled out of Tests lifts himself up from such a difficult situation.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (captain), Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Suryakumar Yadav, Shakib Al Hasan, Yusuf Pathan, Andre Russell, Brad Hogg, Piyush Chawla, Morne Morkel, Umesh Yadav, Sunil Narine, Chris Lynn, Jason Holder, Colin Munro, Simon Katich, Sheldon Jackson, Jaydev Unadkat, Rajagopal Sathish, Ankit Rajpoot.
Rising Pune Supergiants: MS Dhoni (captain), Ajinkya Rahane, Usman Khawaja, George Bailey, Ravichandran Ashwin, Saurabh Tiwary, Thisra Perera, Rajat Bhatia, Adam Zampa, Ashok Dinda, RP Singh, Murugan Ashwin, Baba Aparajith, Ankiit Sharma, Ankush Bains, Deepak Chahar, Scott Boland, Peter Handscomb, Jaskaran Singh, Albie Morkel, Ishwar Pandey, Irfan Pathan and Ishant Sharma, Match starts 8pm IST.