Focus on captain Dravid in Royals' opening game
Match factsFriday, April 6, Jaipur
Start time 2000 (1430 GMT)
While the richer teams have grown stronger with big-name buys during the 2012 auction, Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab have been slowly pushed to a second-tier status in the IPL. However, under captains Rahul Dravid and Adam Gilchrist, both teams are capable of punching above their weight.
Dravid was an automatic choice for captain after the departure of Shane Warne and he will be intent on making an impression on Kings XI as much as on his own team. His first job will be to shape the team according to his vision, after the leadership of Warne, who was synonymous with brand Royals. Dravid can take cues from his opposite number Gilchrist, who hasn't been the force he used to be with the bat, but led Deccan Chargers to a title and has extracted performances from little known players, Paul Valthaty for example, after moving to Kings XI.
A win in the opening game is important for Royals because their next three matches are against strong teams and any points from this game will provide that initial boost. Kings XI will look to do the same and identify who their superstar this season will be.
The match will also have a bowl-off between Sreesanth and Praveen Kumar. Sreesanth, who joined Royals this year, has the opportunity to score points over a jaded Praveen, who appeared ineffective in international matches in Australia and Bangladesh.
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Players to watch
With performances belying his 41 years, Brad Hogg was the leading spinner in this year's Big Bash League, taking 13 wickets. Using his mix of chinaman deliveries and googlies, Hogg could fill the void left by Warne in the Rajasthan attack.
Punjab spent $200,000 to buy the services of Azhar Mahmood, the only player who has played for Pakistan* in this IPL. That could prove to be a bargain as Mahmood can be dangerous with bat and ball.
Kings XI won their only match against Royals last year, a 48-run win set up by Shaun Marsh's 42-ball 71.
Stats and trivia
- Brad Hodge, who is now part of the Royals, is the second-highest run-getter in Twenty20 cricket, only 44 behind David Hussey's 4270.
- Azhar Mahmood is one of four players* to have more than 100 wickets and 2000 runs in the Twenty20 format.
- Royals and Kings XI have played seven games against each other and the head-to-head record is 4-3 in Royals' favour.
"Warnie's absence is undoubtedly a big loss. In the first four years he has done a lot for the team. But this time the responsibility is on Rahul Dravid. Having so much experience, even Dravid knows how to handle the situations and we are ready for the challenge. We have players who have performed well in all formats of the game. The seniors like Rahul, Sreesanth and I will also ensure that we play our part right and help the team perform in the tournament."
Shaun Tait, who bowled the fastest ball on Indian soil last year, is ready to lead the Royals' attack.
"There are bigger hitters than me in the IPL, but I realise that the pressure will definitely be on me since I've done well last year, and I'm ready for it. I won't change the way I play and will approach my batting in the same fashion - strokes and all - and hope to have the same results"
An IPL 2011 success story, Paul Valthaty, will have the weight of expectation this time round.
*April 6, 19:30 GMT: The article earlier said that Azhar Mahmood is the only player to take more than 100 wickets and score more than 2000 runs in Twenty20 cricket.
*04:44 GMT, April 6: The article had stated that Azhar Mahmood was the only Pakistan-born player in this IPL. This has been corrected.
Edited by George Binoy
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo