Punjab Kings vs Kolkata Knight Riders: 5 player battles
KKR monster-hitter Andre Russell will once again be key for the franchise’s fortunes in IPL 2023.

Punjab Kings (PBK) will face Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in match number two of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2023 at the Punjab Cricket Association IS Bindra Stadium in Mohali on Saturday, April 1. This will be the first match of the double-header. Both teams are going in with new leaders in a new season. Punjab Kings, who finished sixth in the league stage last year, have named Shikhar Dhawan as captain, releasing last year’s captain Mayank Agarwal. Kolkata, who finished seventh last year, have been forced to make a change. Left-hander Nitish Rana has been named stand-in captain with Shreyas Iyer unfit as of now due to a back injury. On that note, let’s look at five player battles to watch out for between PBKS and KKR.

1. Shikhar Dhawan vs Umesh Yadav

Veteran Team India opener Shikhar Dhawan is no longer part of the national ODI squad, having been dropped following a couple of poor series. However, he will be keen to prove a point having been appointed captain for Punjab for the ongoing season. The 37-year-old recently admitted in an interview that getting the leadership of an IPL franchise at this stage is a big thing for him. He has been excellent in the IPL over the years and possesses an impressive overall record.

Seasoned India pacer Umesh Yadav was one of the surprise success stories for KKR last season. In 12 matches, the right-arm fast bowler claimed 16 wickets at an average of 21.19, an economy rate of 7.06, and a strike rate of 18. Yadav ran in hard got the ball to do some talking and constantly troubled the opposition batters. He will be up against Dhawan at the start of the innings. Both the senior cricketers will be keen to win the battle within the war and come up trumps.

2. Venkatesh Iyer vs Arshdeep Singh

After a terrific IPL 2021 season, in which he turned around KKR’s fortunes in the second half of the competition, Venkatesh Iyer had a disappointing edition last year. He was pretty much an unknown quantity in 2021, but by last season teams seemed to have worked out how to bowl to him. As a result, the left-hander managed only 182 runs in 12 matches, averaging 16.55 at a strike rate of 107.69, with a solitary half-century. KKR have, however, retained Iyer for the 2023 season and will want him to fire at the top of the order.

The 28-year-old will face a stiff challenge from PBKS left-arm seamer Arshdeep Singh. Arshdeep has been one of the major success stories in the IPL over the last couple of seasons as a result of which he was fast-tracked into the Indian team. In the 2021 season, he claimed 18 wickets in 12 matches at an average of 19 and an economy rate of 8.27. Last year, he picked up 10 scalps, but was very thrifty, maintaining an economy rate of 7.70. Having gained some crucial experience on the big stage, Arshdeep will be expected to have the upper hand over Iyer.

3. Bhanuka Rajapaksa vs Sunil Narine

Sri Lankan swashbuckler Bhanuka Rajapaksa had an interesting season for Punjab Kings last season. He did not score a lot of runs but batted at a rapid pace. Given a free hand to go after the bowling, he walloped 206 runs in nine matches at an average of 22.89 and a strike rate of 159.69, with a best of 43. It seems there’s only one way Rajapaksa knows how to bat. PBKS might ask him to continue in the same role.

The southpaw will be up against KKR’s bowling star Sunil Narine, who has stifled most opponents with his bowling over the last couple of seasons, apart from picking up wickets. Narine will look to frustrate Rajapaksa by keeping things extremely tight and forcing him into a poor stroke. Last season, he picked up nine wickets in 14 games but had an exceptional economy rate of 5.57. Rajapaksa will have a tough time taking him down, but he won’t die wondering.

4. Nitish Rana vs Rahul Chahar

In Shreyas Iyer’s absence, experienced batter Nitish Rana has been named captain of the franchise. There will be additional responsibility on him as a leader and batter. Last season, he had a mixed time, scoring 361 runs in 14 matches at an average of 27.77 and a strike rate of 143.82, with two half-centuries. Rana will have to come up with much better performances this season for Kolkata Knight Riders.

In the middle overs, Rana will be up against PBKS leggie Rahul Chahar. The latter has slipped away from the national radar for now, but the leg-spinner remains a force in the IPL. He made a decent impact last year, claiming 14 wickets in 13 matches at an average of 25.71 and an economy rate of 7.71. Rana will look to take on Chahar. Will the smart leggie be able to stop him and give his team the upper hand?

5. Andre Russell vs Sam Curran

KKR monster-hitter Andre Russell will once again be key for the franchise’s fortunes in IPL 2023. The maverick West Indian batter has a strike rate of 174.48 in the IPL after 98 matches. Last season as well, he had an excellent strike rate of 174.48, smacking 335 runs in 14 matches at an average of 37.22. He was one of the few bright spots for the franchise, who came in and played some scintillating knocks. Kolkata will expect the same from him this season as well.

Sam Curran, who returns to Punjab Kings, will be expected to keep the dangerous Russell quiet. The World Cup-winning all-rounder was purchased for a whopping sum at the IPL 2023 auction because of his ability to mix things up and put the batters off their game. It will be a herculean task against Russell who has been performing a certain role for KKR for years. Can canny Curran thwart him?

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