Having managed a solitary win in six games, the heat, both literally and figuratively, will be on the Kings XI Punjab when they run into the Kolkata Knight Riders on Saturday afternoon in Abu Dhabi. Against the Sunrisers Hyderabad on Thursday, they beefed up their bowling attack and threw left-arm seamer Arshdeep Singh into the death, but they still ended up conceding 201. The move also stretched their tail, leaving them with four potential No.11s - and Mohammed Shami - in their last five. Their coach Anil Kumble revealed during the game that the team management had planned to bring in Chris Gayle, but a bout of food poisoning ultimately ruled him out of the XI. If he recovers in time, he is likely to replace Glenn Maxwell, who has laboured to 48 runs in six innings at an average of 12 and strike rate of 85.71.
Gayle's return might not necessarily give the Kings XI the balance that they're searching for, but it could ease some pressure off captain KL Rahul, who has started slowly and then struggled to accelerate this IPL. Does the T20 legend still have it in him to deal with the fiery pace and bounce of Pat Cummins, who usually bowls three overs in the powerplay for the Knight Riders? The 41-year-old had pulled out of the CPL, for personal reasons and hasn't played any competitive cricket since the Bangladesh Premier League in January.
The Knight Riders, on the contrary, seem to have identified their best XI and are sitting in the top half of the points table. This, despite Dinesh Karthik and Sunil Narine, the opener, not quite hitting full tilt, and Kuldeep Yadav being left out or not bowling his full quota when he's in the XI. Against the Super Kings, Narine entered at No. 4 and prevented MS Dhoni from using Ravindra Jadeja. If the Knight Riders once again opt to bat Narine in the middle order, then he and Eoin Morgan could make life difficult for Ravi Bishnoi and Singh in the middle and end overs.
In the news
- It remains to be seen if Gayle is fit for this fixture.
- Rahul said that he has been impressed with the uncapped Ishan Porel's bowling in the nets and that he would get a look in at some point. Is that some point Saturday against the Knight Riders?
Kings XI Punjab: 1 KL Rahul (capt), 2 Chris Gayle/Glenn Maxwell, 3 Mayank Agarwal, 4 Prabhsimran Singh (wk), 5 Nicholas Pooran, 6 Mandeep Singh, 7 Mujeeb Ur Rahman, 8 Ravi Bishnoi, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Sheldon Cottrell, 11 Arshdeep Singh
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Rahul Tripathi, 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Nitish Rana, 4 Eoin Morgan, 5 Andre Russell, 6 Dinesh Karthik (capt&wk), 7 Sunil Narine, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Kamlesh Nagarkoti, 10 Shivam Mavi, 11 Varun Chakravarthy
- The Kings XI don't have too many death-bowling options, so they could well try Shami again and attack Morgan and Andre Russell with some extra pace and bounce. Shami has dismissed Morgan once in five balls in T20s, but Russell has the wood over the seamer, with 84 runs off 31 balls while being dismissed just once. However, Shami is still the Kings XI's best bet against the Knight Riders' power-packed middle order.
- Narine was reserved for the death against Dhoni in the Knight Riders' previous match, but there's a case for him to take the new ball against the Kings XI. Rahul has a strike rate of 231 against Narine in T20 cricket, but the spinner has taken out Gayle five times while giving up 153 runs off 177 balls. Agarwal, too, hasn't got on top of Narine although the sample size is smaller: 19 runs off 16 balls, one dismissal.
Stats that matter
- The Kings XI have the worst economy rate at the death (13.44) and the third-worst economy rate in the powerplay (8.02)
- Nicholas Pooran has struck at 156 against Narine in T20 cricket. Only his Kings XI captain Rahul (233), David Warner (159) and Tamim Iqbal (157) have a greater strike rate against Narine (minimum of 36 balls faced).
- Cummins has an economy rate of 6.75 in the first six overs. Among bowlers who have bowled at least ten overs in the powerplay this IPL, only T Natarajan, Anrich Nortje and Shami have fared better than Cummins. Cummins is also one away from 100 T20 wickets.
- Russell is one strike away from 300 T20 wickets.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo