Mumbai: Another battle of big-hitters is on the cards when KL Rahul's Punjab Kings take on the Sanju Samson-led Rajasthan Royals, two line-ups dotted with expansive stroke-makers and in pursuit of a winning start to their IPL campaigns on Monday.
Rajasthan will be banking heavily on their swashbuckling all-rounder Ben Stokes. Stokes will be keen to get some runs under his belt and so will be the likes of Englishman Jos Buttler and newly-appointed skipper Samson, who is a mine-field of talent.
The Royals could opt to open with the highly-rated Yashasvi Jaiswal and Buttler. While Samson, who would be itching to prove a point, and Stokes would then form strong middle-order.
If the four fire on all cylinders, they can pummel any attack into submission and Punjab would be no exception on the Wankhede track, which is usually batting-friendly.
Royals also have an several other options at their disposal, including all-rounders Shivam Dube, Shreyas Gopal, Rahul Tewatia, Riyan Parag and Liam Livingstone.
Gopal, Tewatia and Parag, all bowl leg-spin, so it would be interesting to see whether the Royals opt to go in with two leg-spinners.
Tewatia and Dube have the ability to whack the ball outside the park and look to be certainties in the playing XI.
With star pacer Jofra Archer missing due to injury, the pace attack will have to be led by Rajasthan's newest recruit – South African all-rounder Chris Morris, who will be eager to justify his huge price tag of Rs 16.25 crore.
RR will have to get their combination right as only four foreigners can make the playing XI.
So, it will be interesting to see whether Royals opt for left-arm pacer Mustafizur Rahman or go in with either Jaydev Unadkat, Kartik Tyagi or Chetan Sakariya.
Unadkat, with his experience, might get the nod.
On the other hand, Punjab boast of some hard-hitters like Rahul (670 runs in 2020 season), Mayank Agarwal (424 runs) and Chris Gayle.
Rahul and Agarwal formed a lethal opening combination in 2020 and would continue to open.
They also have the likes of Englishman Dawid Malan, one of the finest T20 batsmen currently, hard-hitting Tamil Nadu batsman M Shahrukh Khan, and West Indian Nicholos Pooran.
For them too, it would be all about getting the combination right.
Shahrukh could get the nod ahead of others like Deepak Hooda and Sarfaraz Khan, and could play the role of a finisher.
The bowling attack will be led by Mohammed Shami, who was superb in the last edition.
Their pacer line-up has been bolstered by the signing of Australian speedsters Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith, who had a sensational Big Bash campaign, and also includes Chris Jordan.
It remains to be seen who takes the new ball with Shami.
With their spin attack a concern, Murugan Ashwin and Ravi Bishnoi will have to play their roles well to contain a devastating Rajasthan line-up.
Rajasthan Royals: Sanju Samson (c & wk), Jos Buttler (wk), Ben Stokes, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Manan Vohra, Anuj Rawat, Riyan Parag, David Miller, Rahul Tewatia, Mahipal Lomror, Shreyas Gopal, Mayank Markande, Andrew Tye, Jaydev Unadkat, Kartik Tyagi, Shivam Dube, Chris Morris, Mustafizur Rahman, Chetan Sakariya, KC Cariappa, Liam Livingstone, Kuldip Yadav, Akash Singh.
Punjab Kings: KL Rahul (c & wk), Mayank Agarwal, Chris Gayle, Mandeep Singh, Prabsimran Singh, Nicholas Pooran (wk), Sarfaraz Khan, Deepak Hooda, Murugan Ashwin, Ravi Bishnoi, Harpreet Brar, Mohammed Shami, Arshdeep Singh, Ishan Porel, Darshan Nalkande, Chris Jordan, Dawid Malan, Jhye Richardson, Shahrukh Khan, Riley Meredith, Moises Henriques, Jalaj Saxena, Utkarsh Singh, Fabian Allen, Saurabh Kumar.
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