KKR, the IPL champions in 2012 and 2014, have lost five on the bounce in 2019, but James Buttler expects a season-saving win at Eden Gardens on Thursday...
"Never before can I remember a batsman hitting the ball with the ferocity and consistency Russell has displayed. Bizarrely, KKR's biggest asset has also been their downfall as they've become over reliant on his ability to pull victory from the verge of defeat."
Kolkata Knight Riders v Rajasthan Royals
Thursday April 25, 15:30
Live on BT Sport and Star Gold (Sky channel 729)
KKR need more muscle than Russell
Kolkata enjoyed a great start to IPL 2019, winning four of their first five matches, but have now fallen off a cliff with five successive defeats. They are sixth in the standings and need to get back to winning ways quickly if they are to reach the play-offs.
One man who certainly does not deserve an early tournament exit is West Indian powerhouse Andre Russell. Never before can I remember a batsman hitting the ball with the ferocity and consistency Russell has displayed. Bizarrely, KKR's biggest asset has also been their downfall as they've become over reliant on his ability to pull victory from the verge of defeat.
The top order have floundered and relied on Dre Russ to bail them out far too often. He has hit 392 runs off 180 balls at a strike-rate of 217.77. That is superhuman stuff. Russell the Muscle is also KKR's leading wicket-taker with seven scalps, albeit at an expensive 9.27 per over. Someone else needs to stand up and be counted if the Knight Riders are to reverse their slide.
Skipper Dinesh Karthik and batsman Robin Uthappa were given time off after their last loss to recharge and find form. Karthik has made 117 runs with just one 50. Uthappa has scored 220 runs but been guilty of misjudging the pace of play. Add in Sunil Narine's six wickets in eight matches and 132 runs without a 50 and there are three senior men that KKR urgently need to fire.
Buttler a big loss for underperforming Royals
Rajasthan lost their most recent game to Delhi Capitals and with only three victories from 10 games it is difficult to see them making the play-offs now. They need to win all four of their remaining matches to stand any chance. One crumb of comfort against Delhi was the return to form of opener Ajinkya Rahane who hit an unbeaten 105 from 63 balls. Rahane has missed out on selection for India's World Cup squad and it seems that with the pressure to impress the national selectors now off his shoulders he is a far more dangerous proposition.
The Royals have passed the captaincy to Aussie Steven Smith who made an unbeaten half century against Delhi, but with two star batsman flying the Royals would have been disappointed not to kick on to more than their beatable total of 191. With Jos Buttler now back in England there is a big hole at the top of the order.
Shreyas Gopal's leggies have claimed 12 wickets and Jofra Archer 11 but the rest of the attack has gone AWOL, including Ben Stokes whose six wickets have come at an expensive 11.22 runs per over.
KKR must end bad run at Eden Gardens
In 20 previous encounters between these two sides KKR lead 10-9 with the other game abandoned. KKR won the earlier reverse fixture by eight wickets and, although it's tough to back any team with no wins in five, they would be my pick to win at Eden Gardens at 1.664/6. I certainly won't be going big on this bet! When you are faced with two sides struggling to win matches it might be a game to find other bets in.
It is predictable, yet Andre Russell at 4/1 has to be the play again alongside Nitish Rana. Russell is KKR's leading scorer with 392 runs and can motor past his rivals in the blink of an eye even if he doesn't get to the crease until late on. By playing Rana too at 4/1 you give yourself cover with the only top order batsman to show any consistency (297 runs in nine innings). The simple truth is that Chris Lynn, Robin Uthappa, Dinesh Kathik and Sunil Narine are not trustworthy enough to carry our cash.
With Jos Buttler gone the baton has been passed to Ajinkya Rahane (10/3) and Steven Smith at 3/1 to get the Royals to a big score. Despite Rahane's last game ton, Smith has three 50s in IPL 2019 and his 295 runs from eight knocks make him the trusted punt.
I keep banging on about the merits of great prices in the Man of the Match markets and with Andre Russell prices at 6/1 I would not being doing my job if I didn't mention it. Russell is also 7/2 to hit the most sixes in this match. He might only need two or three balls to make that happen.
James Buttler at IPL 2019
Units Staked 54.50
Units Returned 73.13
Profit/Loss: +18.63 units
IPL 2018 P/L +10.83
IPL 2017 P/L +3.36