Punjab v Kolkata: Trust KKR batsman to make hay at Indore

Kolkata Knight Riders all-rounder Sunil Narine
Sunil Narine could be a matchwinner during the IPL's latter stages
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Saturday's opener is pivotal in relation to the play-offs. Kings XI are on course but this is almost a must-win scenario for KKR. Paul Krishnamurty says it revolves around the toss and recommends backing the team batting second...

"First innings totals here were 152 and 174, both within last year's range between 148 and 198...My suspicion is that par is very much at the higher end...180 plus is within range."

Back 180 or more 1st Innings Runs (if KKR bat first)

Kings XI Punjab v Kolkata Knight Riders

Saturday, 11:30 BST
Live on Sky Sports Cricket

As we enter the closing fortnight, this year's IPL is taking a clear shape. Two sides are out while Sunrisers Hyderabad have already qualified for the play-offs. Chennai Super Kings are just one win away from the 16 points that would take them there.

Most interest concerns the four-way battle for final two play-off spots. Only two points separate these two sides plus Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals. Those who kept the faith and backed defending champions Mumbai at [36.0] to win the tournament when all seemed lost are now sitting pretty. They're into just [7.0].

Kings XI Punjab

Kings XI will be in the play-offs if winning two of their final four games but their run-in is tough. First they face KKR in must-win mode, followed by RCB at home, before closing with away matches against Mumbai and Chennai.

If they fail, the principal blame will lie with their middle-order, perfectly illustrated in defeat last time. Their economic bowlers - five of whom average 8.05 or less - had done the job once again, restricting Rajasthan to 158. Lokesh Rahul - who is 50 runs behind the leading tournament runscorer with a game in hand - more than fulfilled his part of the bargain with 95 not out. The rest added a paltry 41.

Kolkata Knight Riders

Consecutive defeats to Mumbai have severely hampered what seemed another predictable title bid from the twice former champions. Suddenly, anything less than winning all their last three fixtures will probably mean failure to record a sixth play-off in eight seasons. After today, they host Rajasthan before a tough finale away to Hyderabad.

They are certainly capable of pulling it off. Kolkata's worst defeats were primarily down to expensive bowling, with Mitchell Johnson and Andre Russell's economies notably above ten runs per over. Nevertheless, that pair remain matchwinners and, with spinners likely to thrive during these latter stages, Sunil Narine, Piyush Chawla and Kuldeep Yadav will represent a significant threat.

Par may be higher than the last two Indore games

What have we learnt from the two matches at Indore? The chasing team won both easily, as they did in all three matches last season, so batting second is evidently an advantage. The first innings totals were 152 and 174, both within last year's range between 148 and 198.

My suspicion is that par is very much at the higher end of that range, because the two specific innings in question were well below the par line heading into the death overs. 180 plus is within range and appeals as a bet at around [2.5] if KKR bat first.

However I'd be much less inclined to back Punjab for big scores, because they are too dependent on Rahul and Chris Gayle. If they bat first, the recommendation is to lay 160 plus at around [1.4].

Wait for the toss and back the team batting second

This is rated virtually 50/50, with Kings Xi trading at [2.04] compared to KKR at [1.94]. That will change dramatically once we know the toss, and there's no point in trying to pick the winner beforehand. I'll be happy to take [1.8] about the team batting second given those very one-sided recent stats.

Stoinis worth an outside punt to top-score

Considering Rahul's consistent heroics, the market may be wrong to make Chris Gayle favourite here at 21/10. The openers have dominated Punjab's scoring but it won't be that way in every game so, if you're looking for a bit of value down the order, Marcus Stoinis could be the one at 11/1.

Captain Karthik good value to lead the way for KKR

Likewise Chris Lynn is a very opposable favourite here at 12/5. KKR's line-up is deep and versatile so the finishers are always worth a look. Skipper Dinesh Karthik - their top scorer in the series - could be over-priced at 13/2.

Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty

IPL 2018 Profit/Loss:

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