Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kolkata Knight Riders will meet in a clash of equals in the IPL Eliminator at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Monday.
RCB, after three wretched seasons, has made the playoffs in back-to-back years. In 2020, it lost to Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Eliminator, and this time around, Virat Kohli would want to go much further and end his captaincy tenure at the franchise on a high.
For KKR, 2021 marks its first playoffs appearance in three years. It has come after a remarkable run in the UAE, where the Eoin Morgan-led outfit has won five out of seven games after having recorded just two victories in the India leg.
Both Royal Challengers and Knight Riders come into the contest with winning momentum. On Friday against Delhi Capitals, RCB found a new hero in K.S. Bharat, who smashed a last-ball six to carry his team home. The confidence such a victory over a top-two side brings cannot be overstated.
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RCB has also been helped by a certain consistency in selection, going four straight games without a change. But for the odd rejig of the batting order – like Dan Christian at No.3 – players seem to have well-defined roles.
Harshal Patel and Yuzvendra Chahal have continued to impress while Glenn Maxwell has been outstanding.
KKR has recorded back-to-back victories, with the second a thumping 86-run win over a hapless Rajasthan Royals on Thursday. Shubman Gill has returned to form with back-to-back fifties, ensuring that Venkatesh Iyer, KKR’s find of the season, doesn’t have to do all the heavy-lifting.
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Rahul Tripathi and Nitish Rana have been aggressive in the middle overs and how they handle Chahal at the sluggish but small Sharjah ground will be an interesting sub-plot. RCB’s batters will have a similar challenge against the spin combo of Varun Chakravarthy and Sunil Narine.
Speedster Shivam Mavi will be a threat, having picked up seven wickets in the last three matches, including a match-winning 4/21 against RR.
The sole area of concern for RCB and KKR will be the batting form of AB de Villiers and Morgan. Their lack of runs hasn’t hurt their respective sides yet, but a return to form now will be timely.