Start poorly, recover, gain momentum, lose a few and then make a last-ditch climb to the playoffs. This has somewhat been a loose trend both Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rajasthan Royals have followed over the past few years. In that sense, being among the early pace-setters is an unusual position to be in.
Royals are slightly better off at present, having racked up impressive wins over Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Capitals to be placed third on the points table with five wins in seven games. Royal Challengers would be relieved their customary mid-season shellacking is out of the way. A forgettable 68 all out two nights ago against Sunrisers Hyderabad leaves them currently at fifth spot, but with five wins in eight.
In the first exchange three weeks ago, Royal Challengers overcame a middle-order slump to chase down 170. Royals will be itching to pull one back, and on current form you wouldn’t want to bet against them being able to do that.
The match is another exchange between key Royals players up against their former team. Devdutt Padikkal and Yuzvendra Chahal have played key roles with bat and ball. However, Anuj Rawat, a former Royals player too, hasn’t quite set the batting charts on fire for his new team, and is in danger of losing his place.
But the one man who isn’t yet in threat of losing it, but is in desperate need for runs is Virat Kohli. An unusually prolonged patch of low scores this season – something he hasn’t been used to over the past few years – is something he will need to try and find a way out of.
Rawat’s string of low scores could force a change for Royal Challengers. There are two ways of altering the balance. If they can open with Suyash Prabhudessai, it gives them the luxury of playing an extra bowling option. Else, Rajat Patidar or Mahipal Lomror could come in to replace Rawat.
Karthik has been strategically used by Royal Challengers as a finisher whenever the top order has fired. But his record against Chahal has been ordinary: the legspinner has dismissed him thrice in nine innings, with Karthik scoring at a strike rate of only 83. This isn’t to say Karthik that can’t take down Chahal, but on current form, it could make for a compelling contest if Chahal is held back for at least an over at the death against a man who is still trying to present a case to be India’s finisher at the T20 World Cup later in the year.
Wanindu Hasaranga’s match-up against Sanju Samson is hard to ignore. The googly bowler – yes, that is his stock ball – has dismissed Samson four times in five innings in a span of 15 deliveries. It is a no-brainer, really, for du Plessis to bring him on as soon as the Royals captain comes in to bat. Let the mind games begin, again.
Since IPL 2018, du Plessis’ teams have won 70% of matches where he has made 30 or more. The corresponding number for Samson is 83%.
The ball travels at the MCA Stadium in Pune. An average of 17.2 sixes have been hit per match this season, the highest among all four venues.
Hetmyer’s 166 runs are the most between overs 16-20 this IPL. Karthik is second with 153 runs. So in many ways, this will be a contest between two of the best finishers this season.