Every IPL season, the Royal Challengers Bangalore look like one of the teams to beat on paper. They invariably have plenty of superstars, their supporters are filled with hope and all eyes are fixed on them. So far, there have been 12 seasons without a trophy, though. But the Sunrisers Hyderabad are in some ways the opposite of that. They don't generate as much chatter, but they have been in the playoffs every year since 2016, when they even won the title, before finishing runners-up in 2018.
The Royal Challengers come into this edition having tried to sort the issues that plagued them in the last two seasons: an over-dependence on Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, and leaking runs at the death. Thus, they have added Aaron Finch - who will most likely open the batting for them - and paid a big sum to get allrounder Chis Morris. They also bought back Dale Steyn, who briefly gave their bowling the spark it had been missing in 2019 but was then injured. For the Sunrisers, there were no glaring gaps to plug, and they instead opted to strengthen their squad with smart buys such as Fabian Allen and Abdul Samad, both bought at the base price. The splurging by the Royal Challengers and the more restrained buying by the Sunrisers was again in keeping with the way both teams have operated over the years.
Despite the contrasts, though, when it comes to the battle on the field between these two, things have been very even. Since 2018, they have each won two games against the other, and overall, the Sunrisers hold only a slender 8-6 lead in head-to-head contests. There hasn't been a season where one of these teams has won both league matches against the other. The Sunrisers, of course, won their most important match, beating the Royal Challengers in the 2016 final.
In the news
Both David Warner and Finch - opening partners for Australia but on opposite sides here - should be available for this game, having had to undergo only one day of quarantine after flying into Dubai from England. That applies to Jonny Bairstow too, fresh off a century in the third ODI between England and Australia. Warner will have the unique experience of seeing his opening partners swap places from being beside him to being in the opposition within a week.
Warner has also spoken about the challenges of moving from one biobubble to another. The Australian and English players, along with those who played in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL), face extended durations within biosecure environments, with all the restrictions it brings. Mentally, it will be a challenge to get themselves in the zone, knowing that they've left one biobubble and face two months in another.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: 1 David Warner (capt), 2 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 3 Manish Pandey, 4 Vijay Shankar, 5 Virat Singh, 6 Abdul Samad, 7 Mohammad Nabi, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Khaleel Ahmed, 11 Sandeep Sharma
Royal Challengers Bangalore: 1 Aaron Finch, 2 Devdutt Padikkal, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 AB de Villiers (wk), 5 Moeen Ali, 6 Shivam Dube, 7 Chris Morris, 8 Washington Sundar, 9 Umesh Yadav, 10 Navdeep Saini, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal
The duo of Kohli and de Villiers is among the most intimidating to bowl at, but they have both been a bit more susceptible to legspin than other types of bowling, particularly the googly. The Sunrisers have Rashid Khan, arguably the best white-ball legspinner in the world at the moment, and one whose googly is among the most difficult to spot. It could be a good ploy to keep his overs in hand and bring him on when the Royal Challengers top guns are in the middle.
In theory, playing Moeen Ali in the XI gives the Royal Challengers greater balance. He strikes big against spin, his left-hand batting is an advantage and he can be relied upon to bowl some economical overs too. However, given the problems they have had with pace bowling, the Royal Challengers could go out of the box by including both Dale Steyn and Chris Morris, having Umesh Yadav sit out and bringing in someone like Gurkeerat Mann to fill the middle-order role that Ali plays. It is a risky move, but given how power-packed the Sunrisers' own opening duo is, it could be a gamble worth taking to see if Steyn can deliver an early wicket.
Stats that matter
Rashid Khan's economy rate in the UAE is an incredible 5.6. Since his debut, only Boyd Rankin has conceded runs at a fewer rate, at 5.5 - given a minimum of 50 overs bowled.
AB de Villiers is thee sixes away from getting to 400 in all T20s. He could get to the landmark easily if he bats long enough.
Although prolific in all cricket, one of the few holes in Virat Kohli's resume is his recent record against the Sunrisers. Since IPL 2018, he averages only 17.5 against them, and the strike rate of 121 is also not too hot. This is his opportunity to set that record right.