Kolkata Knight Riders are back in familiar home conditions but can ill-afford to take Kings XI Punjab lightly, who are showing signs of improvement under a newly-appointed skipper, when the two teams clash in an Indian Premier League match, in Kolkata, on Wednesday.
Out on road for about three weeks, the two-time former champions KKR have played six of their seven away matches on the trot, winning four of them.
They are returning to Eden Gardens after a morale-boosting five-wicket win in Bangalore on Monday, engineered by Yusuf Pathan and Andre Russell's power hitting. They were staring at a third successive away loss with 81 needed from six overs before Russell flexed his muscles with a 24-ball 39. A vintage Pathan also came to the party smashing bowlers into smithereens in his 29-ball 60 not out.
Their partnership came when the team needed it the most as the duo put on 96 from 44 balls to virtually clinch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The win had seemed far-fetched after their trusted duo of Sunil Narine and Umesh Yadav leaked 101 runs from their quota of eight overs. The speedster was wayward at the death.
Yadav lost the plot completely in that 18th over, and ended up nervous for the rest of the spell as his last two overs cost 41 runs. But despite their domination Bangalore had to succumb to Russell and Pathan's late assault with the bat.
However, despite their spectacular run, they cannot afford to sit back as they run into a side who are finally looking up fresh from their 23-run win against table toppers Gujarat Lions.
Having showed some urgency midway into the season, the team handed the captaincy to Murali Vijay, relieving David Miller of the extra burden, something that brought in some fresh air into the camp after they had lost five of their six matches this season.
Fresh from his hat-trick effort, Axar Patel will look to contain the likes of Russell and Pathan on a surface that traditionally aids the spinners.
Defending a modest 156, KXIP reduced Lions to 57 for six with Patel (4/21) claiming four wickets in five balls, including the first hat-trick of the season, to pave the way for a 23-run win against table-toppers Gujarat Lions in Rajkot.
Their bowlers might have let them down on previous occasions but the new skipper Vijay backed them and kept on rotating them to unsettle the Lions rhythm. By the end of Powerplay, Vijay had used five bowlers.
"You cannot just try to go and do something out of the box. We need to manipulate what resources we have and get the best performance with them rather than telling we can all go and bowl four overs and get two wickets (each)," Vijay said after their win.
Vijay's task is cutout as Punjab have to win their remaining matches to stay in the hunt for a top-four finish in the group stages and advance to the next round.
With their Australia batsman Shaun Marsh ruled out for the rest of the season with a back injury, Vijay will have to rethink his strategy.
The left-hander's top score was against KKR -- 56 not out in 41 balls -- in a the first leg match they lost by six wickets. Marsh had totalled 159 runs in the six matches he played, at 31.80 with a strike rate of 118.65 and he will be sorely missed by his franchise.
South African Farhaan Behardien may get a look in place of Marsh but the bigger problem for Vijay would be to address the team's batting form especially that of Glenn Maxwell who boasts of just half-century from seven matches and scored a duck against the Lions.
Be it their top order in Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa or their middle order, KKR's batting has been their key to success this season and it will be a big challenge for KXIP's limited resources.
"The good thing for us is that now everyone is clicking. In the coming matches, this will give us great confidence. We are professional cricketers and we know that when we play in Kolkata, our openers might play 15 overs and we might not get a chance to bat at all, but in the knockouts, if we qualify, our services might be needed again. So yes, we are a confident unit now, and ready to face any situation," Pathan said on Monday night.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (captain), Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Suryakumar Yadav, Chris Lynn, Andre Russell, Yusuf Pathan, Sunil Narine, Umesh Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Morne Morkel, Jason Holder, Shakib Al Hasan, Brad Hogg, Sheldon Jackson, Kuldeep Yadav, Manan Sharma, Colin Munro, Ankit Rajpoot, Rajagopal Sathish, Jaydev Unadkat.
Kings XI Punjab: Murali Vijay (captain), Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell, Gurkeerat Singh, David Miller, Wriddhiman Saha, Axar Patel, Mohit Sharma, KC Cariappa, Sandeep Sharma, Anureet Singh, Armaan Jaffer, Kyle Abbott, Farhaan Behardien, Rishi Dhawan, Mitchell Johnson, Nikhil Naik, Pradeep Sahu, Swapnil Singh, Shardul Thakur, Manan Vohra.