It's Chris Gayle against the Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Conditions apply, of course. The condition of Gayle's fitness - he's "fully recovered" as of October 12, but is he back to match fitness?
Conditions underfoot, too, with the venue being Sharjah. Alright, so the pitch is not the belter it was at the start of the tournament, but the boundaries are still the same size. A Gayle mis-hit could still be six at Sharjah, so if his timing is not completely there due to his own rustiness or the surface's slowness, that might not matter.
Many expected Gayle to have played in IPL 2020 before this, perhaps as early as Kings XI Punjab's second game, which was their first bout against the Royal Challengers. Two matches in for both teams, Kings XI seemed ready for a great run while the Royal Challengers had tasted a big defeat that could have made old doubts resurface given how their past two IPL seasons had gone. But the tournament has changed beyond recognition for these two teams since that game. That win remains Kings XI's only one so far. For the Royal Challengers, the loss was just a blip.
The Gayle-against-his-old-franchise trope lends a fresh tinge to a rivalry that has plenty of sub-plots already. Kings XI had been nicknamed 'Kings XI Karnataka' before IPL 2020 began, with coach Anil Kumble along with several prominent players hailing from the state. The Royal Challengers have only Devdutt Padikkal as a prominent "local" player. Moreover, the Kings XI have plenty of ex-Royal Challengers players in their ranks apart from Gayle, including captain KL Rahul.
Rahul will have a tricky dilemma to resolve if Gayle does play. The West Indies batsman fits naturally at the top of the order, but so do Rahul and Mayank Agarwal, who have been putting together substantial partnerships in this IPL. One of them will have to drop to No.3. He will also have to decide on which overseas player to leave out for Gayle: go all in on the batting and bring Gayle in for Mujeeb Ur Rahman, or do a swap with Glenn Maxwell. Neither Maxwell nor Mujeeb have been at their best so far, and Kings XI will have to choose between going all in on batting at a venue that's still the most batting-friendly in this IPL, or giving themselves more bowling options.
The Royal Challengers look well settled, and require no changes unless there are fitness issues.
In the news
"I know you've all been waiting for such a long time," Gayle has announced. "The wait is over." He did add this disclaimer: "unless something dramatic happens" again. But barring that, all the indications are that Gayle will play.
Maxwell has pointed to his 'changing roles' within IPL franchises for the disparity between his IPL record and his performances for Australia. He said he's still getting used to coming in late in the innings and putting the finishing touches to what the top order does.
The Royal Challengers bowling has been on point this season, and Virat Kohli put that down to good planning, thorough preparation, and mindset. "If your bowling unit is strong, then you have a good chance of going deep in the tournament," Kohli said.
Rahul hit the highest IPL score by an Indian batsman, helped by two dropped catches along the way, as the Kings XI romped to a 97-run win. The Royal Challengers bowling attack has been revamped since then though, with Chris Morris and Isuru Udana coming in, in place of Dale Steyn and Umesh Yadav.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: 1 Aaron Finch, 2. Devdutt Padikkal, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 AB de Villiers (wk), 5 Shivam Dube, 6 Washington Sundar, 7 Chris Morris, 8 Isuru Udana, 9 Mohammad Siraj, 10 Navdeep Saini, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal
Kings XI Punjab: 1 Mayank Agarwal, 2 Chris Gayle, 3 KL Rahul (capt), 4 Nicholas Pooran (wk), 5 Glenn Maxwell, 6 Mandeep Singh, 7 Chris Jordan, 8 M Ashwin, 9 Ravi Bishnoi, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Arshdeep Singh
Kings XI might be best served by having Gayle open with Agarwal with Rahul dropping to No.3. While Rahul is the leading run-getter in the tournament, his slow strike rates have hurt the team more than helped. Rahul has felt the need to "bat through", which is why he's adopted a less risky approach. But if he comes in after a good start, it might allow him to bat with greater liberty.
Mujeeb Ur Rahman has given up 83 runs in eight overs in the two matches he's played so far, but if Kings XI continue to show faith in him, it will be worth having him bowl in the powerplay. Both Aaron Finch and Devdutt Padikkal, the Royal Challengers openers, have had their troubles with spin in this IPL. While Finch has a strike-rate of 146.00 against spin, he's also been dismissed four times in 73 balls faced. Padikkal has been dismissed just once, but his runs against spin in IPL 2020 have come at a strike rate of 105.66. He hasn't bowled to Padikkal yet, but Mujeeb has a good record against Finch overall despite not having dismissed him: Finch has faced 27 balls but scored only 24 off Mujeeb.
Nicholas Pooran has been the Kings XI most dangerous batsman, perhaps, having got his runs more rapidly than anyone else and with the range to dominate against any type of bowling. One possible match-up against him that the Royal Challengers might want to explore is Navdeep Saini. The quick bowler has got Pooran out three times in 23 balls, while Pooran has taken only 21 runs off him. So keeping a few Saini overs in the bank might be a good ploy.
Stats that matter
53.50 and 152.85. Those are Gayle's numbers against the Royal Challengers overall. Granted, overall numbers against franchises mean little in the IPL where line-ups change every season. But Gayle does seem to have a liking for whoever is donning the Royal Challengers colours.
Washington Sundar's economy rate in IPL 2020 is a staggering 4.9, this despite bowling half his overs in the powerplay. It's the best economy rate in the tournament currently, given a minimum of 10 overs.
Yuzvendra Chahal needs two wickets to get to 200 in T20s.