Eyes on Gayle, Russell as Kolkata, Punjab battle at Eden.
Skipper Ravichandran Ashwin may be in the eye of a storm after 'Mankading' a rival player, but the winning start from that match against Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur will keep Kings XI Punjab upbeat when they face home favourites Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League in Kolkata on Wednesday.
Ashwin's ‘mankading’ of Jos Buttler triggered a dramatic collapse, with Kings XI Punjab restricting Rajasthan Royals to 170 for nine and scoring a 14-run victory.
Buttler was looking in imperious touch with 69 from 43 balls and Rajasthan well on course to overhaul the target of 185, but following the dismissal they went on to lose eight wickets for 62 runs and hand Kings XI Punjab their maiden win in Jaipur.
Though the dismissal was within the rules of the game, it sparked a huge furore, with spin legend and Rajasthan Royals brand ambassador Shane Warne labelling it "disgraceful" and against the spirit of the game.
With debate raging over the run-out, it remains to be seen how Ashwin and Co. start afresh in what will be their first away match this season.
While Kings XI's biggest star Chris Gayle scored a 47-ball 79 in the Jaipur match, his Jamaican compatriot Andre Russell also looked in blistering touch for KKR in the match against Sunriserrs Hyderabad. Their rivalry will be one of the sub plots of Wednesday’s clash in Kolkata.
The ‘Universe Boss’, who will retire from ODIs after the 2019 World Cup, has been in sensational form, smashing 39 sixes in the five-match ODI series against England and set the record for most sixes by a batsman in international cricket.
A typical slow starter, Gayle was 14 off 18 balls but the opener hit top gear in the 12th over, hammering Jaydev Unadkat for four successive boundaries.
A former KKR player, he knows the Eden Gardens like the back of his hand and would look to continue his assault on the spin-oriented KKR attack.
Russell could be KKR's answer to Gayle. The KKR star also fashioned a sensational win, smashing an unbeaten 49 from 19 balls in their opening fixture against Sunrisers Hyderabad in Kolkata two days ago.
Star spinner and explosive opener Sunil Narine hurt his finger in that match and KKR will hope he is fit in time.
KKR will embark on a crucial four-match away sojourn after this and they would look to keep their momentum intact before returning home to face Delhi Capitals on April 12.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Dinesh Karthik (captain), Robin Uthappa, Chris Lynn, Shubman Gill, Andre Russell, Carlos Brathwaite, Sunil Narine, Piyush Chawla, Kuldeep Yadav, Nikhil Naik, Joe Denly, Shrikant Mundhe, Nitish Rana, Sandeep Warrier, Prasidh Krishna, Lockie Ferguson, Harry Gurney, KC Cariappa and Yarra Prithviraj.
Kings XI Punjab: Ravichandran Ashwin (captain), Sam Curran, Varun Chakaravarthy, Mohammed Shami, Nicholas Pooran, Moises Henriques, Hardus Viljoen, Darshan Nalkande, Sarfaraz Khan, Arshdeep Singh, Agnivesh Ayachi, Harpreet Brar, Murugan Ashwin, Chris Gayle, Andrew Tye, K L Rahul, Ankit Rajpoot, Mandeep Singh, Simran Singh, Mayank Agrawal, Karun Nair, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and David Miller.
Match starts: 2000 IST