Rajasthan Royals have successfully managed to cruise along even in the absence of the biggest match-winner Ben Stokes so far. They were not troubled either by Jos Buttler’s absence in the first match and the low score in the second match of the tournament.
Can they sustain their new-found love for 215+ totals which were registered in the batting-friendly and shorter boundaries of the Sharjah stadium? That’s the big question as they take on Kolkata Knight Riders, which has got a very versatile attack for such conditions, in Dubai.
“When you're playing different opponents at different venues, you have to change your plans accordingly. We are playing in Dubai tomorrow where the grounds are bigger. So you need to change the game plans accordingly. We have very smart guys in our team management and we are ready for the next game” said a confident Sanju Samson, ahead of the match. Samson has been the Man of the Match in back-to-back matches for the Royals.
“Given the challenges across the three grounds -- that no team has control over their own wickets -- I think it’s going to be challenging for everybody,” said KKR batsman Eoin Morgan, ahead of the game, clearly banking on the fact that a change of ground may also change the result for their rival.
RR’s Top 3 vs. KKR’s underwhelming firepower
Australian Steve Smith has adopted seamlessly in his new role as an opening batsman. Sanju Samson has displayed a rare consistency, which was always missing in his game. And if Buttler comes good, then Royals can think of doing what no team in the tournament has done so far- to achieve a hattrick of wins.
“If we can improve from the last game, that will allow us to execute strategies against Smith, Buttler and Samson to try and make some inroads. The honest answer is that they are good players, and if they bat 20 overs, you are probably going to lose the game, particularly Buttler and Samson,” Morgan said in an interaction earlier.
However, Royals think they are not merely dependent on the trio. “We have a very well-balanced team, good bowling strength, we are confident with our batting lineup, we bat deep with even someone like Shreyas Gopal batting at number nine. But a lot depends on the conditions,” said Samson.
KKR’s Sunil Narine hasn’t been firing at the top and captain Dinesh Karthik has been struggling. Yet, Shubman Gill, Andre Russell and Morgan can match the brilliance of Royals’ top 3.
Struggle of the two left-armers
There is another contrasting story of two left-arm bowlers, who are desperate to get some form in this game. Spinner Kuldeep Yadav is failing to make an impact in the middle overs for Kolkata – Jaydev Unadkat, the left-arm pacer of Rajasthan hasn’t got a wicket in the two matches besides being very expensive.
Both bowlers have seen that their captains have chosen not to trust them for all four overs in this IPL and both will be eager to get the confidence back.
So far, 11 matches in this are over but whoever wins the Wednesday contest, will get the 11th win in the head-to-head encounters (they are now tied at 10-10) between the two teams. Can there be another Super over? Can’t rule it out too as these two teams have faced each other twice in Super Overs as well in the past.
Likely XI (RR): Steven Smith (c), Jos Buttler (wk), Sanju Samson, Robin Uthappa, Riyan Parag, Rahul Tewatia, Tom Curran, Jofra Archer, Shreyas Gopal, Ankit Rajpoot, Jaydev Unadkat.
Likely XI (KKR): Shubman Gill, Sunil Narine, Nitish Rana, Dinesh Karthik (c & wk), Eoin Morgan, Andre Russell, Pat Cummins, Shivam Mavi, Kuldeep Yadav, Varun Chakravarthy, Kamlesh Nagarkoti.
(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.)