As Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians kick off IPL 8 with the opener to be played at Eden Gardens in Kolkata, we look at some key clashes within the battle that could go a long way in determining the result of the match.
Rohit Sharma vs Morne Morkel: The Mumbai Indians skipper is the one who often gives the team rollicking starts. If he gets going, the opposition finds it extremely difficult to stop him. In a T20, he can take the game away in a matter of a few overs. Kolkata must get rid of him early. While Rohit is a very good player of fast bowling, his strength is also his weakness. He can get out playing some rather innocuous strokes to the faster men. Morne Morkel is quick, and in great form as well. Kolkata will look to him to try and unsettle Rohit with his pace. It will be a difficult proposition under the conditions. But, KKR will be happy if they contain Rohit. If Morne can get him early nothing better.
Robin Uthappa vs Lasith Malinga: Uthappa was extremely unlucky not to have found a place in the World Cup squad considering his great run of form. Thus, he would be keen to make a mark all over again in the IPL. He was among the most consistent performers of last season. And, while he got runs at a fast pace, there were very few slog strokes. Most of his boundaries came via proper cricketing shots. This is what makes Uthappa extremely dangerous in the T20 version. Opening the innings, he will come face to face with Malinga. And, that could be an intriguing battle. If Malinga gets his line and length right, he can contain any player. And, if his deadly yorkers find the target, even an in-form player like Uthappa will not be able to do a lot.
Manish Pandey vs Harbhajan Singh: Given the kind of talent that Pandey possesses, it is somewhat unbelievable that he hasn't played for India yet. But, part of the blame for the same lies with the man himself. After an incredible start of his IPL career, he failed to build on his gains. Last season though, he was one of the heroes of Kolkata's victorious campaign. Pandey has all the strokes in the book, and is elegance personified even when playing the big strokes. He will most likely be around during the middle stage of the innings, where he will come face to face with Harbhajan. The veteran spinner keeps things extremely tight in the T20 format. And, if he gets his act right, he can frustrate someone like Pandey as well.
Kieron Pollard vs Sunil Narine: This will be the most intriguing of all contests. A West Indian vs West Indian, battling it out against each other, playing for two domestic Indian sides. Both Pollard and Narine are unique in their own way. Pollard has an unbridled attitude to hitting, and when he goes after the ball he gives it a mighty tonk. A ten minute muscle-flexing session by Pollard can often be the difference between victory and defeat. Narine is someone whom very few batsmen have picked. Even some established names have looked novices against him. There is no reason to believe that, in spite of being West Indian, Pollard can do the same. It will be a equally big challenge for him.
Ambati Rayudu vs Shakib Al Hasan: Rayudu is very much an unsung hero in the Mumbai outfit. He comes in, gets the quick 20s and 30s to ensure that the momentum of the team is in tact. This season as well Rayudu's task will be to get quick runs in the middle order. He has the ability to get the big hits, and is also a quick runner between the wickets. Shakib is a good option Kolkata have to thwart the threat of Rayudu. The left-arm spinner usually does a good job of keeping things tight. And if he does the same against Rayudu, it will help Kolkata in a big way. Shakib hasn't been in great form of late, but Kolkata will be confident of him rising to the occasion.
--By A Cricket Analyst