Over the years, Rajasthan Royals have had to force-fit overseas players into their XIs at the back end of the competition because of the unavailability of their first-choice picks. This season, they have to do that from the start.
Jos Buttler has arrived in the UAE with family and is undergoing extended quarantine. This rules him out of Tuesday’s fixture in Sharjah. Ben Stokes is still with family in New Zealand. The Royals therefore have two gaps to plug.
One of those – the opening slot – might be plugged by Yashasvi Jaiswal, the Mumbai teenager with a burgeoning reputation already in domestic cricket, and Robin Uthappa, one of their big buys at the auction.
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Who comes in to replace Stokes? It appears as if Tom Curran might be the chosen one. He has had plenty of match time, in the England-Australia limited-overs series. He was a standout performer for the Sydney Sixers in their BBL 2019 victory, finishing the tournament as the third-highest wicket-taker (22 strikes in 14 matches). Then, there’s David Miller, who could make his franchise debut after nine seasons with Kings XI Punjab.
For the Super Kings, given they are playing in Sharjah, traditionally a high-scoring venue with small boundaries, MS Dhoni could look for some bowling insurance by fielding a sixth option. One way of doing this could be by bringing in Shardul Thakur for M Vijay, who had a forgettable opening game. The rest of the batting can then move up a slot, with Sam Curran and Ravindra Jadeja as the floaters to keep-up the left-right combination should they want that.
In the news
Ruturaj Gaikwad has rejoined the Super Kings bubble after testing negative for Covid-19. The team management believes he could fill the void left by Suresh Raina’s exit, but he’s only had one full training session yet. So it could be a while before he’s eligible for selection.
Steven Smith is fit and ready to go. He has cleared the necessary tests and has even started training with the team after a concussion scare in the UK earlier this month.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Shane Watson, 2 M Vijay, 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 MS Dhoni (capt, wk), 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Sam Curran, 9 Piyush Chawla, 10 Deepak Chahar, 11 Lungi Ngidi
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Robin Uthappa (wk), 2 Yashasvi Jaiswal, 3 Sanju Samson, 4 Steven Smith (capt), 5 David Miller, 6 Riyan Parag, 7 Shreyas Gopal, 8 Jofra Archer, 9 Jaydev Unadkat, 10 Varun Aaron, 11 Tom Curran
Barring Buttler, none of the other Royals batsmen had a strike rate of over 120 against spin last season. With him not playing the opener, things might have to be shaken up a little. In 2014, when the first 20 matches of the season were held in the UAE, Miller had the third-highest strike rate and the fourth-best average among those making more than 100 runs in that period. For far too long, Miller has been used as a finisher. Can he prove to be the X-factor player up the order?
Jofra Archer has the third-best economy among all bowlers to have bowled at least 15 overs at the death. Given that the Royals had the poorest death overs economy of 11.3 last season, it makes sense to use Archer at the back-end. However, it wouldn’t be too bad an option to bring him in the middle, especially to hustle Ambati Rayudu with short balls. Archer has dismissed Shane Rayudu twice and Watson once, with neither being able to score freely against his hit-the-deck bowling.
MS Dhoni would do well to bring his spinners on immediately against Smith. Ravindra Jadeja has dismissed him six times in T20s.
Stats that matter
Since their return to the IPL in 2018, the Super Kings have won three out of their four outings against the Royals.
Since 2018, the team chasing has won 26 T20s out of the 46 played in Sharjah.
Pacers have picked up 64% of wickets in T20s here since 2018.
Since 2018, the average score here is 161, while the average winning score shoots up to 175
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