Sun could set on Hyderabad while Knight Riders are the ones to watch as the IPL enters the final sprint for glory

Kolkata Knight Riders will be hoping to hit the the Rajasthan Royals for six in their clash.
Updated 22 May 2018
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Sun could set on Hyderabad while Knight Riders are the ones to watch as the IPL enters the final sprint for glory

  • IPL down to four teams as cash-rich circus nears its climax.
  • Knight Riders coming into form at just the right time.

In our preview, we had tipped Sunrisers Hyderabad and Chennai Super Kings for the playoffs, while mentioning that Rajasthan Royals would be the dark horses. But after a topsy-turvy season that saw Mumbai Indians, the holders knocked out, and the seventh-placed side finish within a win of the playoffs, it is time to run the rule again over the four teams that have made it to the final week.



SUNRISERS HYDERABAD

Recent form: WWLLL

Given a choice, you would not go into the business end of a tournament on the back of three straight defeats. Hyderabad lost some intensity after sealing their playoff spot, even as Kane Williamson, captain extraordinaire, continued to bat like a dream. Their bowlers, so miserly earlier in the tournament, have taken some punishment in the past fortnight, and their hopes of repeating the triumph of 2016 will depend largely on some key players finding form. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has had a disappointing season, and there has been scant batting support for Williamson and Shikhar Dhawan. Rashid Khan and Siddharth Kaul, whose performances have earned an India call-up, have led the bowling, and while Shakib Al-Hasan has been disciplined, he needs to do far more with bat in hand.


CHENNAI SUPER KINGS

Recent form: WLWLW

They could play only one game at their Chepauk fortress before opportunistic Cauvery-water-related protests forced them to shift their home base to Pune. Only one of their bowlers, Shardul Thakur, features in the top 20 wicket-takers list, and he has conceded nearly nine an over. But despite the hardships, Chennai have again made the playoffs, for the ninth time in nine seasons (they were banned for the 2016 and 2017 editions). MS Dhoni’s renaissance with the bat has garnered the headlines, but around him, Ambati Rayudu has made 586 runs and Shane Watson 438. Even a largely out-of-sorts Suresh Raina has managed 391. Dwayne Bravo’s death-overs bowling has gone from strength to concern, but the raw pace of Lungi Ngidi — nine wickets at an outstanding economy rate of 6.11 — has given Chennai a thrilling option that Dhoni will doubtless use wisely. It’s hard to see past them in a high-pressure game.



KOLKATA KNIGHT RIDERS

Recent form: LLWWW

The city that was ruled by the Left Front for nearly four decades has got through because of the strength of the collective. That is not to say individual brilliance has been absent. Sunil Narine, despite the murmurs over his action, leads the Most Valuable Player race with 327 runs (strike-rate of 189) and 16 wickets. Andre Russell has shown his prowess with both bat and ball, while Dinesh Karthik, who took over as captain this season, has shown Zen-master calm to guide the team home in chases. Six of the batsmen have scored more than 250 runs, and young Prasidh Krishna — discovered through the Karnataka Premier League — has given them a potent pace option. If they can coax a couple of big performances from Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla, the wrist spinners who have had underwhelming seasons, they are a good long shot to land a third title.



RAJASTHAN ROYALS

Recent form: WWWLW

The power-packed batting of Jos Buttler helped transform their season, but it also led to an unexpected Test call-up that has deprived the Royals of one of their trump cards. Ben Stokes, who had a poor season with the bat and an average one with the ball, has also gone, leaving the onus very much on the Indian contingent. Ajinkya Rahane’s batting has been mediocre, but he has led brilliantly, coaxing some terrific displays from fringe spinners like Shreyas Gopal and K Gowtham. Jofra Archer’s pace and white-ball nous has allowed them to overcome the poor bowling form of Jaidev Unadkat and Dhawal Kulkarni. But Sanju Samson, who has gone off the boil after a great start, and Rahul Tripathi will need to bat out of their skins to replicate the Buttler heroics that turned around a miserable 3-6 start. Despite being the form side, the suspicion persists that they’re a marquee player or two short.


UAE boss Alberto Zaccheroni admits performances have been poor ahead of Socceroos clash

Updated 22 January 2019
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UAE boss Alberto Zaccheroni admits performances have been poor ahead of Socceroos clash

  • UAE boss still under spotlight despite side reaching lasts-eight, where they will face Australia.
  • Hosts struggled to beat Kyrgyzstan in second-round after underwhelming group stage.

LONDON: Having guided your team to the last eight of the Asian Cup, it must seem strange to find yourself on the defensive. But that is the situation Alberto Zaccheroni, right, faced after leading the UAE to a second-round win over Kyrgyzstan.
The hosts were strongly fancied to see off the Central Asians in their knockout clash in Abu Dhabi, but were taken to extra time and the likely drama of penalties when Ahmed Khalil grabbed the winner in the 103rd minute.
The performance added to the impression that the Whites have made the quarterfinals through luck rather than ability. The team has looked far from impressive during the group stage and anything but possible winners overall.
They now face reigning champions Australia — and even the UAE boss admitted they will have their work cut out unless they improve. “I admit that against (Kyrgyzstan) we seemed to struggle with long ball and crosses, and we also had one or two chances to score and secure the game, but we didn’t convert those opportunities,” the Italian former coach of AC Milan and Juventus said.
“We will try to correct all the things that we believe were less positive between now and the quarterfinals. We now have three days to assess our squad and their injuries before we face a strong Australia team.”
Usually when a team reaches the later stages of a big tournament, players and coaches ignore the performance and pretend all is grand — generally with an emphatic declaration that they will win the title.
Zaccheroni’s post-match reaction was anything but bombastic, however. That is not only a pleasant change but also an appreciation that the UAE have been anything but impressive in their march — in fact, more a slow plod — to the last eight.
This is Kyrgyzstan’s first Asian Cup, and they are far from world-beaters. Playing at home with hopes of lighting the trophy on Feb. 1, the UAE should have easily beaten the Central Asian outfit.
Goals from Mirlan Murzaev and a dramatic late equalizer from substitute Tursunali Rustamov canceled out strikes by Khamis Esmaeel and Ali Mabkhouts. On top of that they hit the bar and the post. It took a controversial Khalil spot-kick to win the match, one that left the Central Asians with a bitter taste in the mouth.
“I don’t want to talk about the referee,” Kyrgyzstan coach Aleksandr Krestinin said.
“We leave the tournament with a lot of regrets — we deserved more. It’s our first Asian Cup, but I’m sure it won’t be our last and we will come back stronger.”
There is a sense the UAE cannot play much worse than they have so far, and the hope will be that they can find a good performance in the quarterfinal against the Socceroos. If they are to shock the reigning champions, they will need Khalil to find his scoring boots again.
“Ahmed Khalil is a very good striker, he is one of the best in Asia,” Zaccheroni said of the 2015 AFC Player of the Year.
“When I took over the UAE team (at the end of 2017), he was injured and had not trained for a long time. He has also been injured many times recently and did not play often for his club.
“Nevertheless, he is a very good player, and I have to say that I rely on him a lot. He does so much for the team.”