Knight Riders, Challengers hope for better performance

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> With their stars failing to live up to pre-tournament billing, Knight Riders and Royal Challengers face off in a crucial battle to stay afloat in the IPL.

Updated: May 16, 2008 16:31 IST
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With their stars failing to live up to pre-tournament billing, two struggling sides Kolkata Knight Riders and Bangalore Royal Challengers face off in a crucial battle to stay afloat in the Indian Premier League on Thursday.

After a string of four losses, the Sourav Ganguly-led Knight Riders now occupy the fifth place, while the visitors languish at the bottom of the eight-team table despite having gleaned four points each.

The Knight Riders have failed to keep up the momentum after a good start and the inability of their top order to forge good partnerships in the initial overs is giving sleepless nights to the team management.

"The batting is an area of concern. We have to back each other and it's time for all of us to perform," Ganguly, himself going through a run drought, said at the customary match-eve media meet.

Rawalpindi Express Shoaib Akhtar, who joined the team two days back after his Pakistan Cricket Board-imposed ban was lifted for a month, does not feature among the 14 members shortlisted for the match.

"He is coming up reasonably well. He wants to play. But he is not in the condition he should be," said Knight Riders coach John Buchanan.

Delhi's Aakash Chopra is in the squad and speculation is rife that Ganguly would come lower down the order, with any two among Chopra, Australian Brad Hodge and Pakistan's Salman Butt likely to be asked to open the innings.

With hard-hitting Aussie David Hussey and Pakistan pacer Umar Gul being certainties, Zimbabwe's wicket-keeper batsman Tatenda Taibu will have to sit out once again. In-form Wriddhiman Saha will then continue to don the gloves.

Saha and Laxmi Ratan Shukla have done well with the willow so far and they earned praise from Ganguly on Wednesday.

Ganguly said the team management was thinking of adopting some new strategies against the Bangalore side.

"I think if we lose and still continue to play the same way, the results will be the same. We have thought about some fresh ideas for tomorrow."

The visiting side, owned by liquor baron Vijay Mallya, are in the doldrums after the dismal show, and their CEO Charu Sharma 'stepped down' on Tuesday to make way for Brijesh Patel.

Coach Venkatesh Prasad also seems to have been put on notice with most of their players not being able to deliver in the high-pressure Twenty20 format.

Skipper Rahul Dravid has been a notable exception amidst the ruins and scored a gritty 66 of 51 balls in the previous match against Kings XI Punjab.

The foreigners - Cameron White, Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn - have also been unable to do justice to their reputation, and the team management would be pinning their hopes on a good performance from hard-hitting Misbah-ul Haq who would play his second match of the tournament on Thursday.

Ganguly said that he was satisfied with the pitch, and did not think that the toss would be a factor.

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