A Ben Stokes-inspired Rising Pune Supergiant will pull out all the stops in their bid to consolidate a play-offs spot when they take on Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in an Indian Premier League (IPL) face-off here at the Eden Gardens on Wednesday.
Stokes, the most expensive player in the 10th edition of the cash-rich league, smashed an unbeaten 63-ball 103 to pull Pune out of a hole at 10/3 chasing 162 for victory and help script a five-wicket win over Gujarat Lions on Monday.
The triumph saw Steve Smith’s side widen the gap between them, placed fourth in the eight-team table with 12 points from 10 outings, and Kings XI Punjab to four points though the latter have played a game less.
KKR, on the other hand, have all but made the play-offs sitting pretty in second spot having 14 points from 10 games. Mumbai Indians are top of the tree with 16 points while Sunrisers Hyderabad are third raking up 13 points from 10 matches.
A David Warner special (59-ball 126) brought KKR’s three-game winning spree to a jolting end on Sunday as Hyderabad posted a mammoth 209 to which the likes of in-form batters skipper Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa had no answer.
Although Uthappa fought gallantly for his 28-ball 53, it was too big a target to chase down even for the on-song men in purple.
KKR bowlers were hit around the park by Warner and suddenly the likes of Nathan Coulter-Nile and Chris Woakes looked vulnerable. Though the relaid Eden deck would support them, the form Stokes is in and the quality of Smith, Ajinkya Rahane and MS Dhoni should keep the hosts on their toes.
Dhoni has had a taste of Eden recently, playing a few Vijay Hazare matches here for Jharkhand. The celebrated former India captain has looked out of touch and not the lethal finisher he is known as, but there is no denying the fact that the 35-year-old can explode at any moment.
It will also be a homecoming of sorts for Manoj Tiwary, the Bengal captain who has been in good touch for Pune. Out-of-favour pacer Ashok Dinda also plays for Bengal.
Since their seven-wicket reversal to KKR at home, Pune have huddled together a couple of wins over a dismal Royal Challengers Bangalore and Gujarat.
Stokes missed that match due to injury and had to sit out against Bangalore as well. But the England all-rounder made a roaring comeback on Monday and could be the difference yet again keeping in mind his prowess with the bat and ball.
South African leg-spinner Imran Tahir has been in good form too and is the second-highest wicket taker so far this season at 16 behind Hyderabad’s Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
In the head-to-head count, KKR have emerged best on all three meetings of the pair so far.
KKR: Gautam Gambhir (captain), Sunil Narine, Kuldeep Yadav, Manish Pandey, Suryakumar Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Robin Uthappa, Shakib Al Hasan, Chris Lynn, Umesh Yadav, Yusuf Pathan, Sheldon Jackson, Ankit Singh Rajpoot, Trent Boult, Chris Woakes, Rishi Dhawan, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Rovman Powell, R Sanjay Yadav, Ishank Jaggi, Darren Bravo, Sayan Ghosh, AColin de Grandhomme
RPS: Steven Smith(captain), Shardul Thakur, MS Dhoni, Ajinkya Rahane, Faf du Plessis, Ashok Dinda, Ankush Bains, Rajat Bhatia, Ankit Sharma, Ishwar Pandey, Adam Zampa, Jaskaran Singh, Baba Aparajith, Deepak Chahar, Usman Khawaja, Mayank Agarwal, Ben Stokes, Manoj Tiwary, Jaydev Unadkat, Rahul Chahar, Daniel Christian, Lockie Ferguson, Saurabh Kumar, Milind Tandon, Rahul Tripathi, Imran Tahir.