The Kolkata Knight Riders are preparing to face the Gujarat Lions, without their brilliant all-rounder Andre Russell, who has been one of the best players of IPL 2016. With Green Park playing host to this crucial match between KKR and Gujarat Lions on Thursday, a run-feast is on the cards in what is expected to be a batting-friendly surface in Kanpur.
It is a must-win game for both KKR and Gujarat Lions as they try to seal a place in the playoffs. A loss in Kanpur could be disastrous for KKR as well as Gujarat Lions.
Though KKR might have lost Russell due to injury, Gujarat Lions will welcome their skipper Suresh Raina from paternity leave. The left-hander will make Gujarat Lions an even stronger unit with the bat, but their batsmen needs to shine in the last few matches. Raina is expected to replace Akshdeep Nath.
The Gujarat Lions have the much-needed experience at the top, including Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum, and if the duo gets going, KKR will be in all sorts of trouble. With Aaron Finch coming in the middle order for the Gujarat Lions, they have a solid finisher as the Australian can flex his muscles in the latter overs of the game.
However, their bowling might not have some big names in world cricket, but they have to deliver in the business end of the tournament. Praveen Kumar needs to lead the team in the bowling department, along with Dwayne Bravo. These bowlers have to stand tall against a quality KKR side.
KKR will not be able to replace a player like Russell, who has been brilliant with both the bat and ball in IPL 2016. Russell has taken 15 wickets and scored 188 runs. Jason Holder, who has only played one game this season, is favourite to replace him in the starting XI. But, the team management might also look towards Colin Munro, and weigh their options before making a final decision on Russell's replacement.
Besides this, KKR skipper Gautam Gambhir is not expected to make any other change to their playing XI. They have a solid batting lineup, with Gambhir and Robin Uthappa as openers, followed by Manish Pandey and Yusuf Pathan. In Russell's absence, Pathan has a huge role to play with the bat in the middle order.
With quality spinners like Piyush Chawla and Sunil Narine in KKR's lineup, alongside Morne Morkel as a key pacer, they have a well-balanced unit to get past the Gujarat Lions.
Expected playing XI: Gujarat Lions: Brendon McCullum , Dwayne Smith, Suresh Raina (c), Dinesh Karthik (wk), Aaron Finch, Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja, Praveen Kumar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Shivil Kaushik, Pravin Tambe
Kolkata Knight Riders: Robin Uthappa (wk), Gautam Gambhir (c), Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan, Shakib Al Hasan, Suryakumar Yadav, Jason Holder, Piyush Chawla, Sunil Narine, Ankit Rajpoot, Morne Morkel.