The IPL is finally picking up steam. On Thursday, MS Dhoni once again showed why he is one of the best home captains in the world when he brilliantly led Chennai Super Kings to a close victory against the Delhi Daredevils at a MA Chidambaram Stadium packed in yellow.
Having been put into bat, Chennai managed only 150/7 at the end of their 20 overs but with the help of some early wickets from Ashish Nehra, they did well to win by just 1 run in the end.
We now move on to Pune where the Kings XI Punjab are scheduled to play some of their home games. Punjab will be taking on a resurgent Rajasthan Royals at the MCA International Stadium in the heart of the Maharashtrian city.
Punjab will be in the best of spirits after an excellent last season of the IPL, where they finished on top of the standings in the group stage and then made their first-ever appearance in the title clash. Although they lost out to the Kolkata Knight Riders in the end, most cricket experts believe Punjab were the best team throughout the course of IPL 2014 and will be hard to beat once again this year.
Punjab haven’t made many changes to their squad for the very same reason and they will be hoping that the likes of Glenn Maxwell, Virender Sehwag, David Miller and George Bailey can give them a rollicking start. This time though, they would want to go one step further and clinch the all-important IPL title, something they have never had the privilege of winning.
Lions are gearing up for the IPL starting today Marsh, Monk, Mitch, Axar & Viru Paaji at the practice session in Pune pic.twitter.com/c7emCzn4QU
— Kings XI Punjab (@lionsdenkxip) April 8, 2015
The Rajasthan Royals, on the other hand, have been one of the most consistent teams in the IPL. Although they missed out narrowly on a playoffs spot last year after losing by a huge margin to the Mumbai Indians, Royals have gained a solid reputation by building a strong team around less known players and giving a tough fight to most oppositions.
Moreover, the Royals are also always held in high esteem for winning the opening season of the IPL in a jaw-dropping contest. With three current World Cup champions in their team in the form of Shane Watson, James Faulkner and Steve Smith, Rajasthan can never be taken lightly.
Skipper Watson agreed in a recent chat with the media that with more match-winners than they have ever had before, Rajasthan would be a delight to watch for the fans.
“I think it’s just very exciting. In the squad that we have got this IPL season, we have match-winners all the way, more than in the past. We have world-class match-winners as well.”
The Fantasy Players
After smashing each and every bowler all over the park throughout the course of the last IPL, Glenn Maxwell has now become a household name in India. Maxwell continued with the same aggressive of style of batting during the recently concluded World Cup 2015, helping Australia to their fourth title at the world event.
Maxwell’s reputation at this stage of his career is such that he is considered by many to be the most dangerous cricketer in the world. Rajasthan surely have to be afraid when they look at videos of how the Australian shifted his stance to clear the boundary 36 times in IPL 2014, getting scores of 90 and above almost every game towards the initial part. If Maxwell gets going once again, scores of 200 and above will become routine once again for the Kings XI Punjab.
But why Kings XI Punjab were so hard to beat last year was also because of the presence of other big-hitting batsmen and among them, former Indian opener Virender Sehwag is one most pacers around the world fear when they run-up to bowl.
Sehwag didn’t really have an impact during the initial part of IPL 2014 while playing for the Kings for the very first time. However, with a brilliant century during the playoffs against Chennai Super Kings, Sehwag solely carried Punjab into the title clash. Hard as it may be, Rajasthan bowlers will have to get rid of Sehwag early if they have to maintain any chance of winning the match.
Punjab also have one of the best of bowlers in Australia’s Mitchell Johnson, who runs in hard and bowls with a pace of over 150 km/hr.
As for Rajasthan, the World Cup-winning trio of skipper Shane Watson, Steve Smith and James Faulkner will be vital cogs in the scheme of things. Smith will be high on confidence after scoring an impressive 1651 runs in 23 innings across the five months preceding IPL 2015. Moreover, he has amassed these runs across all formats of world cricket at a mind-boggling average of 91.72.
Among the Indian batsmen, opener Rahane can give Rajasthan plenty of strength at the top. The 26-year-old has a solid technique to go with his calm temperament and he can play some proper cricketing shots.
— Rajasthan Royals (@rajasthanroyals) April 9, 2015
These two teams have plenty of Australians in their squad and it will be interesting to see what transpires when they go head-to-head playing for separate sides in the IPL. Punjab’s Johnson steaming in to bowl at Rajasthan’s Watson and Smith will be a sight to cherish. Smith has been in incredible form all through the Australian summer and he can’t put a foot wrong at the moment.
Although Punjab beat Rajasthan both the times the two teams met each other last season, the Royals hold the edge as far as the overall head-to-head record is concerned. Rajasthan Royals have won 8 of their 13 matches against the Kings XI Punjab.
George Bailey will come into this game carrying an impressive record of 12 wins in 17 matches as Punjab captain.
Also, 11 of the 17 IPL matches played at this venue in Pune have been won by the team batting first. The toss will therefore be very crucial.
Rajasthan’s Pravin Tambe has already held the record for being the oldest player to compete in the IPL. Last year when he played for the Royals, Tambe was 42 years and 229 days old. When he takes the field against Punjab this year, Tambe will be 43 years and 184 days old.
Who Will Win?
Although Kings XI Punjab will come into this match as favorites, Rajasthan might just sneak through in the end because of the quality of their spin bowling. The Pune track is definitely not one of those that allows big scores on it and it could be a really close game in the end.
We leave you with this exciting instance from the opening match of the IPL this year when Kolkata Knight Riders skipper Gautam Gambhir’s bat was broken in half off a Vinay Kumar delivery. Bat made in China?
— cricketnext (@cricketnext) April 8, 2015