Punjab and Rajasthan in basement battle
Wednesday, March 24
Start time 2000 (1430 GMT)
It's hardly the most flamboyant clash given the two basement dwellers are pitted against each other, but this is an opportunity for the teams to get their campaign on track. Kings XI Punjab are tied with Rajasthan Royals on two points, separated only by a minor difference in net run rate, with both picking up their maiden wins after three defeats. Rajasthan earned their first points with a disciplined fielding and bowling effort against an insipid Kolkata Knight Riders, and Punjab held their nerve to force a tie against Chennai Super Kings and then clinched the Super Over.
Punjab's IPL campaign has been hampered by the absence of their Australian players, either injured or unavailable, and the poor form of captains former and present, Yuvraj Singh and Kumar Sangakkara. The batting has not been imposing, the bowling toothless. But on a steamy Chennai night that turned from deplorable to delirious, their bowlers managed to convert a modest total into a mountain and procure a tense win in the Super Over. Now, with the arrivals of Brett Lee and Shaun Marsh, Punjab have another reason to believe they've turned the corner. Critics will argue that one win won't cure Punjab's frailties but it has given them a much-needed shot of enthusiasm, which Sangakkara and Yuvraj hoped would mark a change in their fortunes.
Rajasthan have also been hurt by the absence of Shane Watson and injuries that ruled out Graeme Smith and Dimitri Mascarenhas. As a result, their batting has been poor and the bowling lacks the zing that a player of Watson's ability brings, especially since Shaun Tait's radar needs drastic fine-tuning. Worse, the middle order has not responded as a unit; their only win was put into motion by Abhishek Jhunjhunwala's 45 and a debut innings from Adam Voges. Shane Warne has been an utter flop with the ball and his tinkering with the bowling attack - he's opened with five different bowlers in four games - hasn't yielded desired results. Warne has vocally and tactically shown a lot of faith in Yusuf Pathan, opening with his offspin successfully in the win over Kolkata, but the time has come for the likes of Michael Lumb, Tait, Munaf Patel and Naman Ojha to perform.
The arrival of Lee and Marsh is immense for Punjab. As a precaution Punjab tested Lee in a practice match today and a final call on him and Marsh, who has also been sidelined by injury, will be taken before the game. If they are passed fit, expect the Aussie pair to slot right in at the top of the batting and bowling line-ups.
Rajasthan might not want to tinker with the unit that secured a maiden victory, despite how disappointing Hampshire's Lumb has been. He scored a duck in the last game but should continue at the top of the order in place of the absent Smith, until Watson arrives next month.
Rajasthan won the first game played between these two sides in 2008, by six wickets, before Punjab hit back with a 41-run win. When they came up against each other in South Africa, Punjab beat Rajasthan by 27 runs before losing the second game by 78 runs.
In the spotlight
Yusuf Pathan: Yusuf has failed to get going since that 37-ball century in the first match. He can't obviously be expected to score centuries each time he walks to the middle but, being Rajasthan's main match-winner, he's got to take stock of where his batting's at. Yusuf has been exposed by the short ball in his last three innings.
Piyush Chawla: The man - yes, he really is, so can the TV commentators stop referring to him as a youngster? - singled out by Sangakkara as "outstanding" needs to do something, anything. Chawla has taken two wickets in four games at an average of 52.00 and an economy-rate of 7.42. His variations have been limited, the batsmen haven't been kept guessing, and the legbreak isn't being crafted well enough.
- Punjab have been the most successful batting side in the last five overs of a game. In four macthes they have scored 203 runs off 120 balls, losing 11 wickets. In that same period, Rajasthan have scored 173 while losing more wickets than any other team, 14.
- Rajasthan have conceded the least number of sixes in the last five overs, just three in four games.
- In six innings played by Swapnil Asnodkar, Naman Ojha and Paras Dogra - three of Rajasthan's young Indian talents - they have scored a combined total of 157 runs at an average of 26.16.
"Why would he return if he's not fit? He's raring to go. Good days are back."
Colonel Arvinder Singh, Punjab's vice-president, is backing Lee to step onto the field.
"The IPL is a bit [more] relaxed than ODIs or Tests and it will be easy for me after the injury."
Good news for Punjab, if Shaun Marsh's confidence is anything to go by.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo