It's quite amazing that Kolkata Knight Riders have managed to keep their Net Run Rate in the positive despite three losses from five games, explaining how up and down they have been. When they've been good, they've been very good and when they have flopped, they have been disastrous. One is never quite sure which version of the Kolkata side will walk out the next time there's a match in the Pepsi Indian Premier League 2013.
At home now, against Chennai Super Kings on Saturday (April 20), Kolkata would hope that it's the version that won more often than not in 2012 that presents itself. In 2012, however, Chennai had beaten Kolkata at Eden Gardens in a last-ball thriller, though Kolkata did return the favour in the return game and then again in the final.
After a slow start to their IPL VI campaign, losing to Mumbai Indians in the first game and then later to Pune Warriors India - both matches at home - Chennai are getting back on track. Between the losses to Mumbai and Pune, Chennai had beaten Kings XI Punjab in Mohali as well as Royal Challengers Bangalore at home. But after the decimation of Delhi Daredevils by 86 runs at Feroz Shah Kotla on Thursday, and the good performance of the top-order batsmen in that game, Chennai are starting to look like the team that has the best record in the IPL over the years.
Mike Hussey, after two half-centuries, both in winning efforts, looks like he is settling down and can be counted upon to lend solidity to the batting. MS Dhoni played the kind of blitzkrieg innings that fans have come to expect from him against Delhi, and Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Murali Vijay and S Badrinath have pitched in, though not consistently, with cameos.
But it's their bowling that has worked wonders for Chennai. Apart from Dwayne Bravo and Chris Morris, all the other regular bowlers have been economical, with R Ashwin operating at 5.94, Jadeja at 6.81 and Dirk Nannes at 6.82. But while Bravo and Morris have been expensive, they have picked up nine and eight wickets from five and four matches respectively. And Mohit Sharma, the young Haryana medium pacer, has figures of 3 for 23 from five overs in two matches, plugging one of the major holes in the line-up.
Kolkata would be wary of those statistics. Even at their best, with Yusuf Pathan far away from the kind of form that once made him a dreaded opponent, Kolkata's batting unit lacks an enforcer. Eoin Morgan has slotted in for the moment, but while he scores at a rate of 137.6, he has only 161 runs from five outings, suggesting that while he scores quick, he doesn't always score too many.
Gautam Gambhir - 235 runs from five innings - has been the in-form batsman, providing Kolkata with good starts, but his opening partner, Manvinder Bisla, has looked woefully out of touch, while Jacques Kallis did play one super innings - 41 against Sunrisers Hyderabad - but has scored only another 40 runs from four innings so far. And Manoj Tiwary, such a crucial part of Kolkata's winning campaign in 2013, has aggregated just 61 runs in four innings.
Those are worrying signs if Kolkata want to raise themselves from the lower half of the table. Sunil Narine's brilliance and good support from Sachithra Senanayeke, Kallis and Rajat Bhatia have kept them going, making up for the lapses of the batsmen. But in the IPL, or any Twenty20 tournament, the batting must fire as a unit for the team to look formidable.
Chennai are getting close to their best, while Kolkata are still some distance away from hitting their peak. On that basis, the late-afternoon crowd at Eden Gardens might just return home dejected on Saturday. But then, if Kolkata can raise their game by a couple of notches, that too on familiar conditions, it could get quite close.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (capt), Debabrata Das, Iqbal Abdulla, L Balaji, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Manoj Tiwary, Manvinder Bisla (wk), Shami Ahmed, Pradeep Sangwan, Rajat Bhatia, Sarabjit Singh Ladda, Yusuf Pathan, Brad Haddin, Brendon McCullum, Brett Lee, Eoin Morgan, Jacques Kallis, Ryan McLaren, Ryan ten Doeschate, Sachithra Senanayeke, Sunil Narine.
Chennai Super Kings: MS Dhoni (capt, wk), M Vijay, Michael Hussey, Suresh Raina, S Badrinath, Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Albie Morkel, Dirk Nannes, Ankit Rajpoot, Mohit Sharma, Chris Morris, Shadab Jakati, Anirudha Srikkanth, Baba Aparajith, Imtiaz Ahmed, R Karthikeyan, Ronit More, Vijay Shankar, Wriddhiman Saha, Ben Hilfenhaus, Jason Holder, Ben Laughlin.