KANPUR: Skipper Suresh Raina’s return could not have been better-timed as Gujarat Lions, jolted by the tournament’s biggest ever defeat, seek to revive their campaign when they face off with Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League here on Thursday.
The Knight Riders will be handicapped by the absence of in-from all-rounder Andre Russell, and Gujarat Lions will look to capitalise on the void at the Green Park, which will be hosting its first-ever IPL match.
In the pecking order, KKR are placed in second position with 14 points and a good positive net run rate, despite being humbled by Royal Challengers Bangalore by nine wickets in their last match.
The two-time former champions have won seven matches and lost five in 12 outings so far, and a win on Thursday will definitely bring them closer to a play-off berth.
In their maiden season, the Lions are at the moment occupying the fourth place with 14 points, but their net run rate is inferior to Knight Riders. They have also won as many games as the Gautam Gambhir-led side.
Lions, who started the season on an impressive note and even occupied the top spot for a while, experienced their worst day when they suffered a 144-run humiliation at the hands of Royal Challengers Bangalore last Saturday.
Blazing centuries from AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli left the Lions attack bruised and battered, and a shaken batting line-up was sent packing for 104 runs.
The time has come for Lions to regroup and the presence of Raina, who missed his first-ever IPL game since its inception in 2008 because of the birth of his first child, could work in their favour, considering that the left-handed batsman has been prolific in this slam-bang league over the past nine seasons.
Half of their worries will be taken care of if the dazzling opening combo of Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum fires.
Raina, Aaron Finch and Dwayne Bravo make the middle order look quite formidable, while bits and pieces players such as Ravindra Jadeja and Dinesh Karthik form the lower order of Lions’ batting.