They will be back with renewed hope and vigor. Punjab with even a new name. Rajasthan with a new captain. How much of these can change their fortunes?
Two of the biggest puzzles in the Indian Premier League will meet each other as they kick start the proceedings for the 14th time in their IPL life. Punjab Kings, as they are called now, and the Rajasthan Royals. It is difficult to be either of them. In a league of immense competition and fortune, both Punjab and Rajasthan have often ended on the wrong side of the spectrum. They will be back at it, once again, with renewed hope and vigor. One of them with even a new name. The other one with a new captain. How much of these can change their fortunes? That is for time to tell.
In 2020, Punjab finished sixth (owing to their superior net run rate), although tied on points with Rajasthan (12), who earned a wooden spoon. For someone who won the inaugural edition of the league, the Royals have done little to live up to the reputation. After a spectacular start in the 2020 edition, where they won and did so dominantly, they slipped hard and never seemed in control of things.
Their struggle is best described in the way Sanju Samson struggles: at the top one moment, down and out the other. That is Rajasthan’s journey summed up. They shine, but never long enough; win, but never consistently. In the world of cricket, both Samson and his team are examples of how despite having the talent, the lack of consistency can make one look mundanely ordinary.
They have now let go of Steve Smith and Robin Uthappa and even as Rahul Tewatia and Riyan Parag were revelations last year, the responsibility on Samson will increase, not only because he will lead but also with the bat. As it would be the case for Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler.
Rajasthan has shelled out on Chris Morris as much as no other team has ever done on any player in the league’s history. But in a team like theirs, the move makes perfect sense, given the flexibility Morris brings with him. It will augur well for the team even more, with Jofra Archer, last year’s MVP, set to miss the initial few games, which leaves Morris to lead the bowling attack alongside a young Kartik Tyagi, Andrew Tye, and/or Mustafizur Rahman.
Rajasthan will play 5 games in Mumbai, 4, 3, and 2 respectively in Delhi, Kolkata, and Bangalore. They thrived the most at Sharjah last year where the boundaries were short, and therefore, they shall look to focus on the 7 fixtures at Bengaluru and Mumbai, where they will start their campaign, and both the venues offer similar value as Sharjah.
On the other hand are the rechristened Punjab Kings, who have made a sea of changes themselves in the league’s history. They have changed more captains and players than most of their counterparts, and are still in search of the title that has remained elusive. Punjab scripted an incredible comeback last year when after losing six of their first seven games, they won five on the trot. However, the initial losses meant that they needed to rely on other results going their way, and they did not, which led to a heartbreaking end of their journey.
For a team that has KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Chris Gayle, Nicholas Pooran, and now world’s No. 1 T20I batsman, Dawid Malan, batting is never a concern. That said, they have let go of Glenn Maxwell and James Neesham, to recruit Malan, Fabien Allen, and Moises Henriques. The last two to provide them a good cushion in their bowling: a department they faltered in heavily last year.
And it showed that franchise wanted to change that desperately during the auction, where they broke the bank to acquire two express pacers in Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith, the former being the leading wicket-taker in BBL 2020-21. Despite possessing Mohammad Shami, Sheldon Cottrell, and Chris Jordan, Punjab struggled at the death, and their latest inclusions must take care of that. The only concern for them remains the lack of experience in the spin column, which will give the likes of Ravi Bishnoi and M Ashwin a chance to impress again.
Punjab plays 5 at Bengaluru, 4 at Ahmedabad, 3 and 2 each at Mumbai and Chennai, respectively, which is 8 games at the short-sized Bengaluru and Mumbai combined. They will have keen eyes on those.
Pitch and conditions
The track proved to be a belter in the second encounter between Chennai and Delhi. Expect some early movement for the pacers, after which, variations will be the best bet. If you are a spinner, beware. Not to take any credit away from either Prithvi Shaw or Shikhar Dhawan, the wicket did play better during the chase, which has not been the case at the Wankhede for the first time.
Playing combinations for RR vs PKBS
Given the kind of returns Ben Stokes gave at the top of the order in the 2020 edition, the Royals might be interested to keep him there. Young Yashasvi Jaiswal was dropped in and out owing to his inconsistent run last year, and with Liam Livingstone coming in, he will have to battle out for his spot. Rajasthan has good depth in batting with Shivam Dube, Tewatia, and Morris following Samson and Buttler.
Predicted XI: Ben Stokes, Yashasvi Jaiswal/Liam Livingstone, Sanju Samson (C), Jos Buttler (WK), Riyan Parag, Shivam Dube, Rahul Tewatia, Chris Morris, Shreyas Gopal, Andrew Tye/Jaydev Unadkat, Kartik Tyagi
Last year, Punjab did not include Gayle into the XI for the initial games, all of which they lost. Once he returned, the team went on a winning spree. Despite that, Gayle, 41, is not a sure starter owing to the team combination and the kind of starts Rahul and Agarwal provided to the team. Shami is fit but returning after a long gap due to injury.
Predicted XI: Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul (C and WK), Chris Gayle/Dawid Malan, Nicholas Pooran, Sarfaraz Khan/Deepak Hooda, Mandeep Singh/Shahrukh Khan, Chris Jordan/Fabian Allen, Jhye Richardson/Riley Meredith, Ravi Bishnoi, Arshdeep Singh, Mohammed Shami
RR vs PKBS Head to Head
Played – 21 | RR – 12 | PKBS – 9
RR vs PKBS Broadcast Details
Match Timings – 7:30 PM IST
TV – Star Sports Network
Live Streaming – Disney+Hotstar