Chris Gayle v Andre Russell. Gayle v Sunil Narine. These mouth-watering match-ups might not have happened this season but Kings XI Punjab’s director Virender Sehwag “saved the IPL” by picking Gayle at the auction in January, after the Jamaican had gone unsold twice. He has reminded the universe that he is still the boss by becoming the first centurion in IPL 2018. Gayle’s former franchise Kolkata Knight Riders, however, don’t need any reminders: he is among the top scorers against KKR with 532 runs in 13 innings at an average of nearly 50 and strike-rate of 152.43.
Russell and Narine, meanwhile, have played starring roles in recent meetings between KKR and Kings XI. KKR have won four of their last five matches against Kings XI, with Russell winning Player of the Match twice and Narine once.
Are KKR over-reliant on Russell and Narine, though? Not really, with Nitish Rana and Dinesh Karthik showing some spark with the bat and the wristspinners contributing consistently, but their pace attack continues to look thin. Kings XI, in contrast, have nearly all bases covered on the bowling front. They might have to make a choice between Barinder Sran and Axar Patel, though, if the latter recovers from a left thigh strain.
The big incentive for both teams is that the No. 1 spot is up for grabs. Can KKR consolidate their top spot or will Kings XI snatch it from them?
The likely XIs
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Chris Lynn, 2 Sunil Narine, 3 Robin Uthappa, 4 Nitish Rana, 5 Dinesh Karthik (capt & wk), 6 Andre Russell, 7 Shubman Gill, 8 Piyush Chawla, 9 Tom Curran, 10 Shivam Mavi, Kuldeep Yadav
Kings XI Punjab: 1 KL Rahul (wk), 2 Chris Gayle, 3 Mayank Agarwal, 4 Karun Nair, 5 Aaron Finch, 6 Yuvraj Singh, 7 R Ashwin (capt), 8 Andrew Tye, 9 Barinder Sran/Axar Patel, 10 Mohit Sharma, 11 Mujeeb Zadran
Stats that matter
Gayle has the wood over his West Indies team-mate Russell in the IPL, having hit him for 50 runs off 30 balls at a strike-rate of 166.7 without being dismissed. Gayle, however, has struggled against Narine in the IPL, managing only 40 off 45 balls while being dismissed twice.
Lynn has a strike-rate of 155.1 against pace this season but that drops to 77.5 against spin. He has scored only 31 runs off 40 balls while getting out three times to spinners.
Uthappa needs 43 runs to reach 1000 runs at Eden Gardens in the IPL.
There is, perhaps, a case for R Ashwin to save himself for Uthappa. He has dismissed him four times in nine matches, while giving away 86 runs off 60 balls.
Drop Gayle at your own peril. He has struck three centuries in his last seven T20 innings, and he has a formidable record against KKR. Then you also have Russell and Narine. Why not pick all three West Indies T20 stars?
“He [Gayle] is a dangerous player. How you start to him is very important early on… If you allow someone like Chris to get into his innings and rhythm, he is a very dangerous player. He is just so powerful and backs his ability to clear the boundary when the ball is in his zone. We will keep an eye on him.”
KKR bowling coach Heath Streak on the threat posed by Gayle
“I am not really here to prove anything. I’ve done it all before. Been there done that. Just put some respect on the name. And all the coaches as well – just put some respect as well.”
Kings XI opener Gayle in boss mode