Already though to the playoffs, KKR won't relent with a top-two finish at stake, and Hyderabad won't hold themselves back either as a defeat will end their playoff hopes. (BCCI)
Buoyed by six back-to-back victories and the confirmation of a playoff berth, Gautam Gambhir-led Kolkata Knight Riders will now gun for a top-two finish in the points table when they face a resurgent Sunrisers Hyderabad on Saturday.
After an awful UAE leg, Kolkata have emerged as the team to beat thanks to some clinical performances, while Hyderabad have done well to still be in the race - though only a win over Kolkata can now keep them alive.
For KKR, the challenge from here on would be to maintain the standards they have set for themselves in the last six games.
The brightest star in their campaign has been the consistent Robin Uthappa, who has emerged as a frontrunner for the England-bound squad after eclipsing Glenn Maxwell to go top of the run-getters' list in IPL 7. In the bowling department, mystery spinner Sunil Narine continues to fox the opposition batsmen with his guile to remain Gambhir's trump card.
While Uthappa dons the Orange Cap with 572 runs from 13 matches, Narine has the Purple Cap jointly with Bhuvneshwar Kumar with 20 wickets each.
The duo has formed the backbone of KKR's batting and bowling but one cannot discount the performances of Shakib Al Hasan, Ryan ten Doeschate, Yusuf Pathan, Umesh Yadav and especially captain Gambhir, who has turnaround a hat-trick of ducks in style by forming a formidable opening pair with Uthappa.
It was, however, an ominous start for KKR after they lost four matches in a row while chasing but Gambhir and his boys have shed the chokers' tag in style winning five in a row batting second.
A win will also boost KKR's chance of a top-two finish, which will give them a cushion of one extra chance to qualify for the final.
For Hyderabad, David Warner's elevation to open the innings in place of regular Aaron Finch has been quite an Uthappa-like masterstroke for Hyderabad who have bounced back from a three-match losing streak to post victories against Royal Challengers Bangalore and Chennai Super Kings.
The Aussie slammed half-centuries in both the wins and the latest (90) against CSK came at an astonishing strike rate of 200.00, something that KKR would be wary of. SRH chased down Chennai's 186 with six wickets and two balls to spare on Thursday for their second consecutive win, keeping them in the queue with Rajasthan and Mumbai for the fourth playoff spot.
Warner (524 from 13 matches) has emerged as the leading run-getter for Hyderabad and occupies the third spot in the overall list behind Maxwell. Warner's opening partner and India opener Shikhar Dhawan has also regained his touch in style with two back to back half-centuries.
The main concern at the Eden turner for Hyderabad would be their spin attack which looks comparatively weaker in the inexperienced hands of Karn Sharma and Parveez Rasool after Amit Mishra was left out for leaking runs. But it won't be a surprise if Mishra gets another chance on Saturday.
A win for SRH does not guarantee them a place in the playoff as with 14 points their progression or elimination would depend on the matches Rajasthan and Mumbai.
With Kolkata hosting the first qualifier (on May 27), a top-two finish will give KKR an advantage to play the match at Eden which has witnessed packed crowds with 70,000 odd crowd on both the previous occasions.
(With PTI inputs)