Dynamic leaders the key in under-pressure clash
Match factsApril 18, 2009
Start time 16.30pm (14.30GMT)
It's the top of the pile versus the cellar dwellers. The inaugural IPL winners take on the Bangalore Royal Challengers, who finished seventh of eight teams. Despite the loss of leading performers Sohail Tanvir and Shane Watson, this is a Rajasthan Royals unit that, under Shane Warne's expert leadership, did a fine job of masking their frailties in 2008. Rajasthan were largely written off after losing their first game, but an inspirational Warne made sure his players reveled in the role of underdogs. The result is fresh in everyone's minds. It's natural, then, to believe this bunch will improve and rise to the occasion - though the corrollary, of playing under the pressure of being reigning champions, is equally valid. The other big question mark is how well the crop of Indians who have never played in South Africa adapts.
Bangalore suffered from a lack of confidence and inexperienced Twenty20 players in 2008. Like Rajasthan last year, Bangalore could use their underdog tag to lift their game. And, like Warne, the man to help them is the exuberant and brilliantly talented Kevin Pietersen. Pietersen will be available for only the first two weeks but how quickly he adapts and inspires Bangalore may dictate how they start their campaign. He could also be the buffer between the players and a difficult corporate boss. What should also work for Bangalore is the number of their clutch players in form.
Bangalore's Jesse Ryder was in super form in the home series against India, while Dale Steyn and Pietersen are coming off good series too. The allrounder Roelof van der Merwe has turned heads in the Twenty20s and ODIs against Australia, and is being marked out as one to watch in the IPL. Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher have done well in their recent international games against Australia. Nathan Bracken has been poor in the ODIs against South Africa, managing just three wickets at 60.33 in four games. Robin Uthappa has not played much cricket lately, nor have most of the other Indians in the squad. Rahul Dravid, though, is coming off a consistent Test series in New Zealand.
From Rajasthan's batting line-up, Graeme Smith will come straight off the ODIs against Australia. Yusuf Pathan played the limited-overs leg of India's tour of New Zealand but the likes of Swapnil Asnodkar, Tyron Henderson and Ravindra Jadeja haven't had any international competition for a while. Shane Watson, who recently came off a long-term injury, joined the Royals for their training camp in Cape Town but will fly out with the Australian team next week. Rajasthan will be boosted by the return of Munaf Patel, who achieved reasonable success with the Indian team during their tour of New Zealand.
In from the cold
Warne hasn't played competitive cricket since lifting the inaugural IPL trophy last year. That may give cause for concern, but then Warne has never been one for rigorous practice. Just toss him the ball and wait. Always the entertainer and a shrewd tactician, the legendary legspinner is an impact player.
Watch out for
Warne v Pietersen. Both are solid mates, having played together at Hampshire, and both have swapped compliments in the press. Warne and Pietersen have had a few heated exchanges on the field at the international level. Pietersen loves attacking, Warne loves being attacked. Watch out for a battle of wits.
Steyn v Smith: South Africa's captain will now be facing his strike bowler. It's nice to be able to give the new ball to Steyn and help him set fields, but having the world's fastest bowler hurtling down in steamy Cape Town is something else. Both are tough cookies, so don't expect either to lack in aggression.
Like Rajasthan, Bangalore have serious headaches when it comes to picking four overseas players. Bangalore failed to spark last season, but the addition of Pietersen and Ryder add much-needed oomph to the batting. That's two spots, leaving the likely candidates to be Steyn and Roelof van der Merwe, both South Africans. Ross Taylor, Bracken, Kallis and Boucher are likely to miss out. Steyn is Bangalore's best bowler and he has said the inclusion of van der Merwe, a great Twenty20 spinner and destructive batsman, was likely to balance out the loss of Zaheer Khan. Unlike Ryder, Taylor does not bowl. Bracken has been in poor form in South Africa, while Bangalore are unlikely to use an overseas spot on Boucher and Kallis, who did nothing worth remembering last season. Praveen Kumar is a shoo-in and the men to back him up include Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Pankaj Singh. Though Anil Kumble has done nothing of note in Twenty20 he may be considered for his experience.
Bangalore Royal Challengers (probable) 1 Jesse Ryder, 2 Robin Uthappa, 3 Kevin Pietersen, 4 Rahul Dravid, 5 Virat Kohli, 6 Roelof van der Werwe, 7 Sreevats Goswami (wk), 8 Praveen Kumar, 9 Anil Kumble, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Pankaj Singh.
Rajasthan will be keen to use Watson's services - though he will play as a batsman - before he departs for Australian duty in the UAE from April 22-May 7. Last year's Player of the Series is a likely starter, filling the No. 3 slot. Warne and Smith will fill two more non-Indian spots, leaving England's Dimitri Mascarenhas and South Africa's Henderson fighting over the other allrounder's berth. Warne has talked up Henderson and his experience in local conditions so he may get preference. South African fast bowler Morne Morkel and the Australians Shaun Tait and Shane Harwood will be competing as strike bowlers. It is indeed a complicated situation for Rajasthan. Among the Indian players, Warne said he had high hopes from Kamran Khan, 18, the left-arm seamer from Uttar Pradesh who bowls with a slingy action and surprising pace.
Rajasthan Royals (probable) 1 Graeme Smith, 2 Swapnil Asnodkar, 3 Shane Watson, 4 Yusuf Pathan, 5 Ravindra Jadeja, 6 Tyron Henderson, 7 Shane Warne (capt), 8 Mahesh Rawat (wk), 9 Munaf Patel, 10 Sidharth Trivedi, 11 Kamran Khan.
2008 head-to-head record
Rajasthan won both games against Bangalore last year, one home and one away. The first in Bangalore was a seven-wicket victory and the second, at the fag end of the tournament, by 65 runs.
"Having Kevin Pietersen as captain will be interesting, as he has knowledge of local conditions and of batting over here - and it will be good to have his experience."
Anil Kumble is confident Pietersen will rise to the occasion
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo