In Thursday's game, Sunrisers Hyderabad take on Kings XI Punjab in a clash of the spinners
IPL 2018: Dinesh Karthik leads the way for Kolkata Knight Riders in straightforward win over Rajasthan Royals
It may yet be too early to say, but 2018 is turning out to be a good year for Dinesh Karthik.
Earlier in the year, the India wicketkeeper-batsman played an innings to remember, leading the national side to victory in the final of the Nidahas Trophy triangular Twenty20 tournament at Colombo.
His last-ball six against Bangladesh not only proved he was an excellent stroke-player but also revealed to the world he has ice water in his veins.
Karthik, who made his India debut in 2004 – even before the great MS Dhoni did – had by then been named captain of Indian Premier League side Kolkata Knight Riders.
After winning the toss and sending Rajasthan Royals in to bat on Wednesday, Karthik showed imagination by employing spinners Piyush Chawla and Kuldeep Yadav at both ends of first few overs.
The tactic may not have worked, as opposite number Ajinkya Rahane and D’Arcy Short put on a 54-run stand for the first wicket, but Karthik had clearly taken the home team by surprise.
Next, he had Nitish Rana, an occasional bowler at best, to send down two overs, thereby taking two wickets.
He also stumped out Rahane for 36, following which Rajasthan lost their momentum before finishing on 160-8.
It proved a total Kolkata overhauled with ease and go top of the table, thanks in large part to Karthik’s 42, although credit must also go to Robin Uthappa (48), Sunil Narine (35) and Rana (35).
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Kings XI Punjab host IPL table-toppers Sunrisers Hyderabad on Thursday with just two points separating the teams.
On paper, Hyderabad are the slight favourites to win given they have a balanced line-up.
They have steady – if not spectacular – batsmen in captain Kane Williamson, Shikhar Dhawan and Manish Pandey, but it is their bowling attack that is possibly the envy of their rivals.
Hyderabad have the edge in the pace department, being led by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who has risen to become a strike bowlers for India.
But Punjab have home advantage, and they have exciting batsmen – including Chris Gayle, Lokesh Rahul and Karun Nair – at their disposal.
What is common between the sides is the factor of spin: Punjab are captained by Ravichandran Ashwin, while Hyderabad have Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan.
They also have in their ranks mean slow left-armers, who are useful with the bat, too, in Axar Patel (Punjab) and Shakib Al Hasan (Hyderabad).
As bowlers Ashwin and Rashid could not be further apart: the former is an off-spinner, who occasionally bowls leg-breaks, while the latter is a leg-spinner.
Ashwin is on the wrong side of 30 and peaking in his career at the moment – at least in the Test format – while Rashid is still a teenager with, hopefully, many more years of success to look forward to.
Despite the differences, however, their performances are likely to have a bearing on the result.