First things first. The IPL 2015 eliminator between Rajasthan Royals and Royal Challengers Bangalore should be a full 20-over match. The rain that has followed these two teams like Cheeka the pug in the old Hutch advertisements followed its friend should and will stay away from Pune. The temperatures are expected to be around 30 degrees and Messrs Duckworth and Lewis won’t have to decide the fate of which team’s IPL campaign is going to end tomorrow.
Indeed, a part of the reason these two teams are playing this loser-goes-home match despite finishing level on points with Mumbai Indians, is rain playing spoilsport in their games.
The Royals almost did not make it this far. After a blistering start to the tournament, with 5 wins out of 5, they were staring at elimination with a run of losses. Yet again, it came down to the last match of league play in a must-win game. The decision to hand over the captaincy to Steven Smith – who, if you recollect, skippered the side for 4 of those first 5 wins - proved a masterstroke.
This match, which is the fourth of the tournament to be played at the M.C.A stadium in Pune, offers very little choose from between the two teams. The pitch at Pune, in the three earlier games, has provided good assistance to the quicks, with bounce and movement. And in almost all those games the openers have struggled, with the middle-order batsman providing match-winning contributions.
While three games played that early in the tournament could be a small sample to make conclusions from, it is fair to say that the Royals have an edge when it comes to batting depth. The top-heavy batting order of Bangalore would need support from Dinesh Karthik and Mandeep Singh, if this becomes a high-scoring game.
Incidentally, in the game against Punjab at this very venue, Deepak Hooda and James Faulkner took them to victory with some late big-hitting. But they also didn’t have to face Mitchell Starc in that game.
While Royals do not have one bowler in the top 15 of the wicket-takers list, Bangalore can boast of two – Starc and Chahal. At the end of day, the bowling department is perhaps where this game will be decided, and the Royals will be expecting a lot from Chris Morris and Dhawal Kulkarni.
Head to Head in IPL 8:
The Royals and Royal Challengers have played only one completed match this year in league play, with the return leg at Chinnaswamy Stadium getting washed out, even as the home team had put on 200 runs batting first, thanks to a late cameo from the youngest player in IPL 8, Sarfaraz Khan.
The earlier match at the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad, however, was as one-sided an affair as any this year. Choosing to field first, a Starc-led bowling attack restricted Royals to 130 for 9, before Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers put on a controlled, unbeaten 98 run stand, to take RCB home with 23 balls and 9 wickets to spare. That was also the match when it became clear that if Bangalore were to mount a serious title push, they had to have the Big Three playing in the top three.
Key Players for RR:
Ajinkya Rahane and Shane Watson: Whether or not the opening pair can evade the threat of Mitchell Starc, will go a long way in deciding the Royals’ chances in this game. Rahane, who has looked in imperious form through most of the tournament, would be keen to compensate for missing out on a big score in the must-win match against KKR. While Watson – more relaxed after relinquishing the captaincy to Steven Smith – has found form at the right time of the tournament. The sense of freedom was palpable in the bat-lift and swing in some of the straight drives he played during the course of his century against Kolkata.
Key players for RCB:
The Gayle-Kohli-ABdV Axis of Brutality: Bit of a no-brainer this. If these three decide to take the game by the scruff of its neck, there is little any opposition can do to un-strangle themselves. The converse, however, is also true. Especially when the Royal Challengers are chasing, they have struggled when their stars don’t click.
Mitchell Starc: Quite possibly the best bowler in the world right now, the Australian paceman has played a role as crucial – if not more – as the big hitters at the top for RCB. Their early struggles in the campaign were symptomatic of a bowling attack that lacked leadership. Starc’s return of 18 wickets at an economy rate of a shade less than 7 and a league-best average of 13.4 have come in just 11 games. If he’s on song, the Royals have just 16 overs, effectively, to post a challenging total.
Updated Date: May 20, 2015 18:51:54 IST