Kieron Pollard first, and then Adam Gilchrist have probably done more for Kolkata Knight Riders in the Pepsi Indian Premier League 2013 than the Kolkata players themselves.
Amazingly, as a result of Mumbai Indians' win over Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kings XI Punjab's win over Royal Challengers Bangalore on successive days, Kolkata are still in the running for a spot in the playoffs. And when they take on Pune Warriors India, a team that just doesn't seem capable of winning, at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association stadium in Ranchi on Wednesday (May 15), Kolkata will back themselves to inch upwards on the table.
Around the time Gautam Gambhir, the Kolkata captain, interacted with journalists in Ranchi, the Bangalore v Punjab game was on and Chris Gayle and Virat Kohli were in the middle of their 137-run partnership. Obviously then, even as the Kolkata players went through a rigorous training session, there was a sense of hopelessness about them. How things have changed since then. And instead of Gambhir's promise of "going out there and trying to win", the Kolkata boys will have a lot more to play for.
It promises to be another low-scoring affair - the Kolkata v Bangalore match on Sunday had 231 runs scored in 39.2 overs - on what is a sluggish, two-paced pitch, and that should help Kolkata and their bunch of spinners and slowish medium pacers. That suggests no changes to their playing XI, unless Ryan ten Doeschate's average efforts with the ball facilitates Eoin Morgan's return to the middle.
Opposite them are Pune, who have done everything but win matches, except on two occasions, and seem clueless about how to reverse the tide. Watching Pune's training session on Tuesday afternoon was also a disheartening experience as the players just went through the motions. Though it was good to see Yuvraj Singh smash a few biggies well into the stands and Bhuvneshwar Kumar run in for a longish bowling stint and trouble all the batsmen who faced him.
As always, a team with nothing to lose can scuttle the plans of teams with more at stake and that's where Pune can be dangerous, even if they haven't struck yet. There has never been any doubt about Pune's quality on paper and that quality will be out on display against Kolkata. Plus, there's the added incentive of the players pushing their cases for next year's IPL auctions, one of the few things that still matter in a season gone hopelessly pear shaped.
As such, Kolkata would have to be favourites for this one. What Pollard and Gilchrist have done must appear as a stroke of good fortune to them and that might spur Kolkata on to give it their best against Pune. The conditions are also likely to favour their bowling attack more than that of Pune. And in any case, there's Pune's terrible record that forces the tag of underdogs on them more often than not.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (capt), Debabrata Das, Iqbal Abdulla, L Balaji, Manoj Tiwary, Manvinder Bisla (wk), Shami Ahmed, Pradeep Sangwan, Rajat Bhatia, Sarabjit Singh Ladda, Yusuf Pathan, Brad Haddin, Brett Lee, Eoin Morgan, Jacques Kallis, Ryan McLaren, Ryan ten Doeschate, Sachithra Senanayeke, Sunil Narine, Sumit Narwal, Paras Dogra.
Pune Warriors India: Aaron Finch (capt), Yuvraj Singh, Robin Uthappa (wk), Luke Wright, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ashok Dinda, Rahul Sharma, Ajantha Mendis, Kane Richardson, Mitchell Marsh, Abhishek Nayar, Ishwar Pandey, Parvez Rasool, T Suman, Shrikant Wagh, Angelo Mathews, Wayne Parnell, Ali Murtaza, Anustup Majumdar, Eklavya Dwivedi, Harpreet Singh, Dheeraj Jadhav, Mahesh Rawat, Mithun Manhas, Manish Pandey, Krishnakant Upadhyay, Raiphi Gomez, Udit Birla.