But gradually as the tournament progressed and results arrived, a drastic change in fortunes was witnessed with KKR not qualifying for the knock-out rounds and Rajastan Royals crowned champions. For the next two years the Royals have been battling the demon of exceeding expections and with the bar set so ridiculously high, they have struggled to keep up with themselves. Kolkata on the other hand is controversy's favourite child and has managed to continue to shy away from results and stay attracted to everything that is wrong with the IPL.
The Royals have started the season on a winning note picking up 2 straight wins to go top of the table where they are tied on points with the powerful Mumbai Indians. Kolkata on the other hand suffered a narrow defeat to defending champions Chennai Super Kings in the tournament opener, but have since bounced back to defeat the Deccan Chargers. The match between KKR and the Royals will take place in Sawai Mansingh stadium, Jaipur. Rajasthan enjoy a near flawless home record here and with the fan support behind them, it’ll be an uphill task for Kolkata.
The Royals made a fabulous start to their campaign by defeating the Chargers comfortably. Their batting looked solid but seemed to lack the firepower until Ross Taylor walked out in the middle. They kept the same batting unit for game 2 against the Delhi Daredevils and recorded a similar win with Rahul Dravid and Johan Botha playing steady hands while the rest of the strokemakers went in search of quick runs. The dilemma facing Shane Warne is who to drop in order to accomodate powerful Aussie allrounder Shane Watson. Ross Taylor is vital to the middle order, while Warne himself has been in spectacular bowling form. That leaves him the option of either axeing the expensive Shaun Tait or the man who has been winning him the matches Johan Botha. Tait's pace and ability to take wickets with the new ball should see him prevail, though Warne could well toss the new ball to Watson too and reward Botha for his performances with a place in the side.
The Indian talent has excelled for the Royals with both bat and ball. The young willow-wielders have not been scared to have a dash, while the bowling unit has been a revelation. In fact the meticulous planning that goes into knowing exactly where to bowl to each batsman has been a hallmark of the Shane Warne's leadership right through the IPL. It seems as if the very presence of Shane Warne in their ranks instigates bowlers like Siddharth Trivedi and Amit Singh to give their 100%. And when they do that, the success is theirs to reap as was evident in the first match when their 8 overs fetched 6 wickets at the expense of just 50 runs. Shane Warne has been the leading wicket taker for the Royals having picked up a total of 27 wickets in the last two seasons. And the veteran leggie, Trivedi and Singh with 4 wickets each are leading the wicket-taking charts at this early stage of the tournament.
Kolkatta Knight Riders
On paper, KKR is one of the strongest batting outfits in the IPL. If it weren’t for two disastrous run-outs in the match against Chennai, KKR was well on its way to victory. Jacques Kallis is in terrific form having hit superbly paced 50’s in the last two matches. Bisla has played a respectable helping hand, though his strike rate and his place will be under scrutiny with the arrival of Brad Haddin. Gambhir who would want to stay at no. 3 , might also give a thought to coming lower down the order if Warne starts his spell late. Pathan's form has been a worry, coming into this tournament, but someone with his brute force is always one hit away from a quick 30 or 40. Manoj Tiwary has outdone his image of a calm and composed campaigner, with the last two knocks at strike rates of 180 and 142. And even though Morgan hasn’t had too many opportunities to showcase his skills, he should retain his place in the team.
The bowling squad comprising largely of Indian players should feature the same faces. The only change will be the arrival of Brett Lee into the playing XI. He should replace Ryan ten Doeschate, thus giving a huge boost to the bowling line up of KKR. In their last match, Jaidev Unadkat bowled a superb final over to seal the victory for KKR, hence he should retain his place. Among the other bowlers, Iqbal Abdullah made good use of the conditions to once again become the standout bowler for his team with an economy rate hovering close to six in both the matches. Balaji has also maintained a decent economy rate with good spells with the new ball.
Having played only three foreigners in the last game, Kolkata could well bring in Brett Lee without toppling the applecart. Logically speaking though Brad Haddin should also replace Bisla at the top of the order despite the wicketkeeper batsman forging two half-century partnerships with Kallis and that could well mean some time on the bench for Dutch allrounder Ryan ten Doeschate.
Head to Head: Rajasthan Royals 4 – 2 Kolkata Knight Riders
May 1, 2008: Rajasthan won by 45 runs.
May 20, 2008: Rajasthan won by 6 wickets.
Apr 23, 2009: Rajasthan won in the superover.
May 20, 2009: Kolkata won by 4 wickets.
Mar 20, 2010: Rajasthan won by 34 runs.
Apr 17, 2010: Kolkata won by 8 wickets.
Rajasthan Royals: Shane Watson, AG Paunikar(wk), R Dravid, AL Menaria, LRPL Taylor, AM Rahane, AS Raut, SK Warne(c), A Singh, SK Trivedi, SW Tait
Kolkata Knight Riders: B Haddin (wk), JH Kallis, G Gambhir(c), MK Tiwary, EJG Morgan, YK Pathan, Iqbal Abdulla, R Bhatia, Brett Lee, L Balaji, JD Unadkat
Watch out for
Shane Watson - An enthralling contest is in store for cricket fans when an in-form Watson will take on Brett Lee. After clobbering 15 sixes against Bangladesh early in the week, the Royals' will be salivating at the prospect of their favourite Australian son being unleashed on a semi-suspecting Kolkata attack.
Yusuf Pathan - In most matches, Pathan seems in a state of comatose; he’ll start slowly, hit an occasional six to justify his price and then depart. However, once in every three to four matches, he gets going and then it is a treat to watch him. The stage is set for him to prove his loyalty to his new team and he might have the support of the local fans too, having played for the Royals for 3 years. He’ll be aware of the weakness of bowlers like Trivedi and Singh and will be looking to exploit them to the fullest.
Prediction: The match should be a close affair with the better mentally prepared side emerging victorious. Both sides have their list of match winners with Kolkatta having an edge in this department. The higher scorer between Watson and Pathan may well turn the tide in his side’s favour. With the crowd support behind them and a shrewd leader like Warne backing his players, the Royals might just keep their unbeaten start to the season intact.