Ashwin and Rahane re-take the spotlight


Big Picture

They seem to have match-winners galore but, put together, Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals have only one IPL trophy between them. And addressing that fairly important issue are two captains who have been left by the wayside and aren’t particularly thrilled about it.

Any conversation about Ajinkya Rahane in limited-overs cricket circles back to his strike-rate but the man himself suggests he has not been given enough chances by India. Facing him on Monday will be R Ashwin, who will not stand for becoming a one-format cricketer. India’s captain Virat Kohli has said that IPL performance will not matter towards World Cup selection, but these two will be keen to test that statement.

In the news

  • Steven Smith is all set to resume his IPL career and said he expected to be available from the first game onwards despite coming off an elbow injury that required surgery and lengthy rehab. This on top of the one-year ban for ball-tampering. So it’s likely he’ll have a few camera lenses trained on him.

  • Kings XI fast bowler Andrew Tye is still in Australia and so won’t be part of this game. David Miller too may not make it in time considering he was part of the South Africa squad that played the T20I against Sri Lanka on Sunday.

Likely XIs

Rajasthan Royals: 1 Ajinkya Rahane (capt), 2 Jos Buttler (wk), 3 Steven Smith, 4 Sanju Samson, 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Rahul Tripathi 7 K Gowtham, 8 Shreyas Gopal, 9 Jofra Archer, 10 Jaydev Unadkat, 11 Dhawal Kulkarni/Varun Aaron

Kings XI Punjab: 1 Chris Gayle, 2 KL Rahul (wk), 3 Mayank Agarwal, 4 Karun Nair, 5 Nicholas Pooran, 6 Mandeep Singh, 7 R Ashwin (capt), 8. Sam Curran, 9 Ankit Rajpoot/Varun Chakravarthy, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Mujeeb Ur Rahman

Strategy punt

  • Jos Buttler is phenomenal in the first six overs of an IPL game, averaging 92 – which means he rarely gets out early – even as he maintains a strike-rate of 168.5. But he’s not had great success against Mujeeb Ur Rahman. The head-to-head in the IPL reads: 27 runs in 21 balls and two dismissals. Both are Powerplay specialists and their battle could prove crucial to the outcome of the game.

  • Offspin has always been a good ploy against Chris Gayle (strike-rate of 117) and in K Gowtham the Royals have a good option: he took 11 wickets last season (joint third-highest among uncapped spinners) at an economy rate of 7.8.

  • Expect a (one-sided) captain v captain battle. Rahane v Ashwin in the IPL reads: 25 runs, 26 balls, three wickets.

Stats that matter

  • Gayle has made 3994 runs in 111 IPL innings. With one shot, he could break yet another record, the fastest to 4000 runs in the IPL. David Warner (114 innings) beware. Really, all those self-made claims about his being the best there ever was were not entirely unfounded.

  • If Royals fancy objecting to that, they should put Dhawal Kulkarni up to make their arguments. The fast bowler has dismissed Gayle three times in 31 balls in the IPL. Also, the batsman’s strike-rate in this head-to-head is only 113. Kulkarni is favourite against KL Rahul too: three wickets in 18 deliveries.

  • There’s another West Indian powerhouse on the block as well. Nicholas Pooran. He does his dirty work in the middle order, with T20 statistics from IPL 2018 indicating that No. 5 is his best batting position (strike-rate 171, average 50). That may also help make sure he’s around in the death overs because he hits a boundary every four balls between overs 16 and 20.

  • The average score in Jaipur in day-night T20Is and IPL matches since 2013 is 158. Also, Kings XI have never beaten Royals at this venue.

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