If you had told someone right after this year’s auction that a team containing Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, D’Arcy Short and Jofra Archer would be languishing at the bottom of the table after nine matches, you might have provoked a few sneers. If you had told them this team also had Ajinkya Rahane, Jaydev Unadkat and Sanju Samson, they would have called you the biggest pessimist out there.
Well, if you had made that prediction, this is probably the time for you to say, “I told you so.” With just three wins, Rajasthan Royals find themselves on the brink of elimination. They have lost each of their last three games, with a failing middle order the common thread across all three losses, including the most recent one against Kings XI Punjab on Sunday, when they slumped from 84 for 2 in the 11th over to finish at 152 for 9.
Now, when they meet the same opponents for the second time in three days, they will desperately want the likes of Short and Stokes – who haven’t managed a fifty between them in 15 innings – to belatedly find some form.
Kings XI, meanwhile, occupy the top half of the table despite having faced similar issues of depending heavily on one or two players – particularly with the bat – to carry them over the line. It is an issue they too will need to iron out as the playoffs approach. Where better to start than at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, where they have never beaten Royals in four previous attempts?
The teams faced each other for the first time this season on Sunday. Thanks to KL Rahul‘s 84 off 54 balls, Kings XI romped home by six wickets at the Holkar Stadium in Indore.
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Jos Buttler (wk), 2 D’Arcy Short, 3 Ajinkya Rahane (capt), 4 Sanju Samson, 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Rahul Tripathi, 7 Stuart Binny, 8 K Gowtham, 9 Jofra Archer, 10 Shreyas Gopal, 11 Jaydev Unadkat
Kings XI Punjab: 1 Chris Gayle, 2 KL Rahul (wk), 3 Mayank Agarwal, 4 Yuvraj Singh/Manoj Tiwary, 5 Karun Nair, 6 Marcus Stoinis, 7 Axar Patel, 8 R Ashwin (capt), 9 Andrew Tye, 10 Mujeeb Ur Rahman, 11 Ankit Rajpoot
Given how vital he has been to Kings XI’s fortunes, Royals will want to get KL Rahul out early, and one way to do that could be to use Shreyas Gopal with the new ball. In 15 matches since IPL 2015, legspinners have dismissed Rahul eight times. Shreyas, moreover, has dismissed five right-hand batsmen in seven games.
Stats that matter
Andrew Tye has picked up two or more wickets in five of Kings XI’s six wins this season.
Chris Gayle needs 64 runs to become the seventh player to 4000 runs in the IPL
Kings XI are the best batting team in the Powerplay this season, scoring at a run-rate of 9.22 and averaging 55 per wicket in this phase.
Losing faith in Rahane? Don’t, just yet. He averages 45.8 in Jaipur in T20s. He also made an unbeaten 65, although in a losing cause, against Sunrisers Hyderabad last month. Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer are among the in-form options from Royals’ squad, while it’s a no-brainer to pick Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Rahul or Gayle from the visiting side.