Bangalore: With Chris Gayle in rollicking form, Royal Challengers Bangalore would have nothing but a place in the top-two in mind when they clash with an equally determined Kolkata Knight Riders in their Indian Premier League match on Saturday.
With six wins on the trot, Bangalore are barely two points away from ensuring a place in the play-offs and they could not have envisaged such a rosy scenario at the start of their IPL campaign.
Three defeats and a wash-out against Rajasthan Royals had seen RCB tottering at the ninth slot with five points from six games. But the arrival of Gayle, albeit a replacement for the injured Dirk Nannes, has seen them storm the leader-board, barely a point behind Mumbai (11 matches) and Chennai (12 games) who have 16 points each.
A victory for RCB would strengthen their chance of finishing among the top two and earn the right to play the winners of the eliminator (between the third and fourth placed teams), even in the eventuality of them losing the first semi final.
Even if they lose on Saturday, they still have two games at Dharamshala (May 17) and at home to keep their hopes alive of making it to the qualifiers.
If KKR, who have 14 points from 11 games, go on to win this game, they would also put themselves in contention for a place in the qualifiers. If they come a cropper, they too have two games to keep themselves in the hunt for a place among the top two finishers.
RCB will start as firm favorites at their stable. Their batting has been kept in good stead by Gayle who has amassed 398 runs from six games.
More than the quantum of runs that he has scored, it will be the West Indian's sheer ability to savage the bowling attack upfront that will rattle Gautam Gambhir's Knights.
Gayle has effortlessly and mercilessly plundered the bowlers in all his visits to the square, collecting as many as 30 sixes and 37 fours during his unrestrained onslaught.
Kochi Tusker fast bowler R Vinay Kumar is about the only bowler to have got the measure of this marauding six-footer.
The rest have submitted to his blitzkrieg, bowling in areas where he has drawn them to bowl. If Gayle cuts loose on Saturday as he has done in the last six matches, the writing would be clear on the wall for the Knight Riders.
Tillakratne Dilshan's absence would be deeply felt by RCB. They are in a dilemma to find a replacement opener for the Sri Lankan captain who had played the supporting cast to Gayle to a nicety.
It remains to be seen whether they will risk opening with Mayank Agarwal. They have other options in Luke Pomersbach and Rilee Rousseau.
The early dismissal of Gayle and Virat Kohli could put RCB under pressure, as their lower middle has really not been tested in the last six games which they have won with plenty to spare.
Considering this fact, Knight Riders would be seeking to make early inroads into the RCB citadel, though AB de Villiers would be another stumbling block.
Knight Riders are no pushovers. The fact that they have won seven games should serve notice of their prowess. Having lost a home game to RCB, Gambhir's legion would be looking to avenge the defeat, orchestrated by the big-hitting Gayle who scored his maiden IPL century.
The RCB bowling looked a trifle weak without the services of Daniel Vettori in the last match. Gambhir, Jacques Kallis and Manoj Tiwary would be seeking to exploit this weakness.
Even if they do, they will have to ensure that KKR score in the excess of 170. Else, Gayle could blow them over the Bay of Bengal which isn't too far from the Eden Gardens, their base camp.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: Daniel Vettori (C), Mayank Agarwal, Sreenath Aravind, Arun Karthik, BN Bharath, Raju Bhatkal, AB de Villiers, Nuwan Pradeep, Muralidharen Gautam, Chris Gayle, Mohammad Kaif, Abrar Kazi, Zaheer Khan, Virat Kohli, Charl Langeveldt, Abhimanyu Mithun, Ryan Ninan, Asad Pathan, Luke Pomersbach, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rilee Rossouw, Jamaluddin Syed Mohammad, Saurabh Tiwary, Johan van der Wath, Jonathan Vandiar.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (capt), Jacques Kallis, Eoin Morgan, Manoj Tiwary, Yusuf Pathan, Mark Boucher, Brett Lee, Rajat Bhatia, Iqbal Abdullah, Sarabjit Ladda, Jaydev Unadkat, Ryan ten Doeschate, James Pattinson, Shakib-al-Hasan, Laxmipathy Balaji, Manvidner Bisla, Shreevats Goswami, Pradeep Sangwan, Shami Ahmed, Laxmi Ratan Shukla.