Rajasthan Royals have been one of the most consistent teams in the Indian Premier League 2013, and when they visit Eden Gardens to take on Kolkata Knight Riders on Friday (May 3), they will start out-and-out favourites to consolidate their position as one of the top four teams.
Kolkata might be the defending champions, but they have done little to live up to that tag in IPL VI so far, not even winning enough matches at Eden Gardens to bring talk of 'home advantage' to the table. Their team composition has been a mess, their combination of overseas players has been questionable, the form of their key players - bar Sunil Narine - has been up and down, and all of that has added up to them getting stuck in seventh position on the table.
Strictly speaking, Kolkata aren't out of the race for a place in the playoffs yet, but going by their form, it's only a mathematical probability.
Gautam Gambhir, their captain, carried the team's batting at the start of the season but has tapered off in recent times, aggregating just 73 runs in his last five innings. Manvinder Bisla and Eoin Morgan, the only two other Kolkata batsmen to make a mark, have made up for Gambhir's lack of runs to some extent, but with Jacques Kallis and Yusuf Pathan looking off colour, Kolkata's batting performances have been patchy at best.
Not that the bowling or fielding have been much better. Narine has waged a lone battle on most occasions with the ball, with Kallis, Sachithra Senanayeke and Rajat Bhatia the only other bowlers to make life difficult, on occasion, for opposition batsmen.
And even though Gambhir has said repeatedly that all's well in the dressing room and spirits are high despite the succession of losses, the drooping shoulders on the field suggest otherwise.
Visiting them are Rahul Dravid's Rajasthan, who are as low-profile and as shorn of big-ticket stars - bar Shane Watson - as in previous seasons, but as formidable at home as one has come to expect them to be. But crucially, for them and for Kolkata, they haven't been good tourists, the only success so far coming against Delhi Daredevils in their first game of the season.
That's something Kolkata would be excited about because though Rajasthan beat Kolkata fairly comfortably in the Jaipur leg, if Kolkata's bowling comes good as a unit, things might not be as smooth at the Eden Gardens.
For Rajasthan, while Rahul Dravid has been scoring fairly consistently, Ajinkya Rahane has slowed down after a good first few games. But with Watson pitching in with big runs at the top, Brad Hodge taking charge of the last few overs of the innings and the likes of Stuart Binny and Sanju Samson contributing when given an opportunity, the batting, as a unit, has looked formidable.
Their bowling, however, has looked less stable. S Sreesanth, Shaun Tait and Rahul Shukla, the pacemen, have not performed often enough for the team to depend on them, while Kevon Cooper, after picking up eight wickets in his first four games, hasn't been anywhere near his best. The good thing though is that James Faulkner, with 16 wickets at an economy rate of 6.11 from seven games, the miserly Ajit Chandila - economy rate of 5.73 - and Siddharth Trivedi, Rajasthan's loyal workhorse, have been at their best.
Whether that bowling attack can hit its straps on the sluggish Eden Gardens pitch and whether the Rajasthan batsmen can counter the threat of Narine and the other spinners might well be the key to the outcome of the match.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (capt), Debabrata Das, Iqbal Abdulla, L Balaji, 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.
Rajasthan Royals: Rahul Dravid (capt), Samuel Badree, Stuart Binny, Kumar Boresa, Ajit Chandila, Ankeet Chavan, Kevon Cooper, Fidel Edwards, James Faulkner, Shreevats Goswami (wk), Harmeet Singh, Brad Hodge, Brad Hogg, Vikramjeet Malik, Ashok Menaria, Kushal Perera, Ajinkya Rahane, Sachin Baby, Sanju Samson (wk), Owais Shah, Rahul Shukla, Amit Singh, S Sreesanth, Shaun Tait, Pravin Tambe, Siddharth Trivedi, Shane Watson, Dishant Yagnik.