On paper, Punjab Kings and Rajasthan Royals have more than a few things in common going into the second phase of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Affected by withdrawals of some absolutely indispensable players and locked at six points each, both sides will seek to revive their falling campaign during their face-off at the Dubai International Stadium on Tuesday.
Wicketkeeper captains KL Rahul and Sanju Samson sit comfortably among the top six run-scorers midway into the tournament but their individual efforts are yet to create an impact on their respective team performances so far.
With the odds stacked against them in their 14th attempt to lift the elusive trophy, Punjab Kings will hope for their coach Anil Kumble and the leadership group to get their campaign back on track.
During his playing career, Kumble had brought India back from the jaws of defeat on numerous occasions. With the former India captain’s name doing the rounds for a second stint as head coach of the national team once Ravi Shastri finishes his term after the T20 World Cup, the legendary leg-spinner will look to prove his mettle as a franchise coach.
Before his fallout with Virat Kohli, Kumble had coached India to the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy final. However, his brief tenure as the Punjab Kings coach is yet to produce desired results. The Mohali-based franchise finished sixth in 2020 and are currently tottering at the same spot midway into the 2021 season of the IPL.
Tuesday’s contest will be more about the kind of starts that the top-order players from either side can provide. For Kings, Rahul and Mayank are expected to open with the evergreen Chris Gayle providing the right impetus to their innings at No.3.
Prabhsimran Singh is another exciting prospect at the top of the order in case he gets into the XI. The middle order will be manned by Mandeep Singh, M Shahrukh Khan and a toss-up between new recruit Aiden Markram and West Indian Nicholas Pooran, eager to get over a nightmarish first phase, where he got four ducks.
Leg-spin remains Punjab’s forte and the addition of experienced campaigner Adil Rashid, alongside the India pair of Ravi Bishnoi and Murugan Ashwin, could come in handy in UAE conditions. The withdrawals of Riley Meredith and Jhye Richardson means Mohammed Shami is set to be partnered by either Chris Jordan or Nathan Ellis. Left-armer Arshdeep Singh’s improved death bowling will also strengthen his case.
Similarly for the Royals, a lot will depend on the start the power-hitters Liam Livingstone and Evin Lewis provides. Coming into the IPL after some smashing performances in ‘The Hundred’ for Birmingham Phoenix, Livingstone will be excited to stretch his run, while at the same time his abilities against quality leg-spin will be tested.
Weakened by the pull-outs of Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer, Rajasthan will hope for their Indian boys like Rahul Tewatia, Riyan Parag, Jaydev Unadkat and Chetan Sakariya, to turn the tide.