It was last in 2015, the year before their two-year ban, that Rajasthan Royals won their first three games in a season. Having started the 2020 season with two wins, including a record-breaking highest successful IPL chase on Sunday courtesy Rahul Tewatia and Sanju Samson, they go in to Wednesday’s clash with a chance to emulate this.
Having played their opening two games in Sharjah, where they made scores of 216 and 226, they will now play on a bigger ground and on perhaps a more challenging surface in Dubai. This could mean a slight recaliberation of their plans. Their spinners will come into play a lot more and their batsmen may not find hitting through the line as effortless as they may have in Sharjah.
Royals, however, have concerns in their bowling even though Sharjah may not be an ideal barometer to base their performance on. Jaydev Unadkat, their lead Indian bowler, has proved expensive in both his outings. The highest wicket-taker in the Ranji Trophy season is yet to strike. He also didn’t complete his quota of overs against Kings XI Punjab. His potential replacement Varun Aaron has also been expensive in the past. They have two rookies in Kartik Tyagi and Akash Singh waiting on the bench. Should they call up one of them on a bigger ground?
Knight Riders, meanwhile, rebounded strongly after a pounding at the hands of Mumbai Indians in their opener. Against Sunrisers Hyderabad, Eoin Morgan, their finisher, sewed up a regulation chase. Shubman Gill, who they see as a future star, set it up for them upfront along with Nitish Rana, another talent they’ve invested heavily in. Questions over Sunil Narine’s form and his effectiveness against the short ball continue to persist, but the upside to his patchy form is that he doesn’t eat up too many balls in the powerplay.
Kuldeep Yadav’s form, however, continues to be a real concern. The team’s strike bowler until 2018, Kuldeep averages a wicket every 55 balls since IPL 2018. Last season, nine games yielded a mere four wickets. In their second game, after going for 39 runs in four wicketless overs, he didn’t even bowl his full quota of overs.
Varun Chakravarthy, their second spinner – more in the Narine mould – helped get through the middle overs economically on his debut for the franchise. Over the years, Knight Riders have had the reputation of backing their players – both Indian and overseas. Russell, who had to serve a year-long doping ban, and Narine, whose action had been under scrutiny on and off, being prime examples. Can Kuldeep repay that faith?
In the news
Royals don’t yet have the services of Ben Stokes, who is with family in New Zealand. However, he has started training and could return from compassionate leave early October.
Over the last couple of seasons, Knight Riders have had to furiously seek replacements in the first half of the tournament because of injuries. This year, they look settled on that count and have all players available for selection.
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Jos Buttler (wk), 2 Steven Smith (capt), 3 Sanju Samson, 4 Robin Uthappa, 5 Riyan Parag, 6 Rahul Tewatia, 7 Shreyas Gopal, 8 Tom Curran, 9 Jofra Archer, 10 Ankit Rajpoot/Varun Aaron, 11 Jaydev Unadkat
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Shubman Gill, 2 Sunil Narine, 3 Dinesh Karthik (capt & wk), 4 Nitish Rana, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Andre Russell, 7 Kamlesh Nagarkoti, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Shivam Mavi, 10 Kuldeep Yadav, 11 Varun Chakravarthy
Sunil Narine has an excellent record against the Royals’ top three – Jos Buttler, Steven Smith and Sanju Samson. Narine has dismissed Samson thrice while ensuring he has only managed to strike at 87 off the 45 deliveries he has bowled. Smith, who has been out twice to Narine, only strikes at 115. Perhaps, there’s a case for Narine to bowl out with the new ball, given Knight Riders’ bowling depth.
Dinesh Karthik has opted to bat at No. 3 in the first two games. Since IPL 2019, he’s been dismissed thrice by googlies, the most for a batsman. He’s been out to the delivery in each of his two previous knocks this season too – lbw to Rahul Chahar and Rashid Khan respectively. Royals could perhaps look to attack him with Shreyas Gopal, who has an excellent googly, and Rahul Tewatia.
Stats that matter
Pat Cummins is two short of 100 T20 wickets.
The last time these two sides played in the UAE, Royals beat Knight Riders on boundary count after the Super Over also ended in a tie. It was the second tied game between the two sides in IPL history. The first one happened at Cape Town in 2009, when Yusuf Pathan won the Super Over for the Royals.
Buttler averages 57.2 as an opener since IPL 2018, the third best after David Warner and KL Rahul among all batsmen with 200-plus runs. In the 16 innings he has opened, he has just dismissed five times inside the powerplay. His strike rate of 160 in this period is second best in the IPL in this qualifying period.
Prior to this season, Samson had managed just four half-centuries in 27 IPL innings; his form tailing away after strong starts somewhat becoming a trend. He’s so far managed 159 runs, including two half-centuries in his first two outings. Can he sustain his good run of form?
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