The Sunday’s Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020 game at Sharjah could all be about crossing the boundaries if the previous match hosted at the once famous, or notorious, cricket stadium is anything to go by. A record 33 sixes were hit when the Chennai Super Kings clashed with the Rajasthan Royals on September 22.
A replay can be expected with Kings XI Punjab having a slight advantage in the form of a well-oiled six-hitting trio of KL Rahul, Chris Gayle and Glenn Maxwell.
In the Rajasthan Royals camp, Sanju Samson and Jos Buttler can match that rare ability to send the ball flying over the boundary at will.
Both teams are keen to register their second win of the tournament. Though KXIP lost one game in the Super Over (against Delhi Capitals), RR will be aiming to join the Capitals in the league table with two wins from two games after beating the Chennai Super Kings convincingly in their first encounter.
The batting line-up
If the inclusion of England’s Jos Buttler after he completed his extended quarantine in UAE has bolstered the Royals, Punjab are expected to bring in “Universal Boss” Gayle—even his miss-hits can go for six at Sharjah’s short boundaries.
Buttler was to be the first-choice opener for the Royals but after captain Steve Smith’s successful makeshift opening role, he may have to bat lower in the order in the middle.
To accommodate Gayle in the playing XI, the most successful opening pair of this IPL—Rahul-Agarwal—will have to be separated.
“KL Rahul was in exceptional form the other night against RCB, so he will be a key wicket as always and I think we'll see another potentially high-scoring game at Sharjah with small boundaries and the dew factor coming in,” said Buttler after a net session.
Battle of pacers
South African Kagiso Rabada may have snatched the purple cap from Mohammed Shami on September 25 but expect the Punjab bowler to get it back again on Sunday.
Shami has been a revelation, so far, and is being ably supported by the West Indian Sheldon Cottrell at the other end. The duo has been in superb form—taking wickets and being economical at the same time in the power-play overs (six wickets two games).
Punjab’s coach Anil Kumble seems to be focusing on this weaker area of bowling as KXIP managed only 12 wickets during the powerplay or the first six overs in 14 games last year.
Rajasthan have a special weapon in Jofra Archer, the talented promising pacer from England, who is a bigger threat than Shami or Cottrell.
The Barbados-born all-rounder’s best IPL show—3 for 15—came against the Kings XI in the previous season. The big question, however, is can Archer alone take care of the death overs for the Royals who for the last two seasons have a worrying economy rate of 10.38 in that phase.
Spinning a web
If Ravi Bishnoi is emerging as a fine young leg-spinner for Punjab, Rahul Tewatia made quite an impression against a star-studded RCB for Rajasthan. They have also been backed by an equally fine support cast in the spin department.
Head-to-head, the two sides stack up almost equal—10 wins for RR and nine for KXIP. But in the last five years, it is Punjab that has come triumphant more often—six wins and just two losses.
KXIP Punjab: KL Rahul (captain, wk), Mayank Agarwal, Chris Gayle, Karun Nair, Sarfaraz Khan, Glenn Maxwell, Jimmy Neesham, Krishnappa Gowtham, Sheldon Cottrell, Ravi Bishnoi and Mohammed Shami.
Rajasthan Royals: Yashasvi Jaiswal, Steve Smith (captain), Sanju Samson (wk), Jos Buttler, Robin Uthappa, Rahul Tewatia, Tom Curran, Riyan Parag, Shreyas Gopal, Jofra Archer and Jaydev Unadkat(Vimal Kumar is a senior sports journalist who has covered multiple cricket world cups and Rio Olympics in the last two decades. Vimal is also the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.)