Rajasthan Royals can once again start to believe, having opened their account this season. The bad news is they will run into a side with the ability to chase down any total.
The visiting Kolkata Knight Riders handed Royals three defeats last season. Less than 48 hours after their Bengaluru conquest, they'll step into the Sawai Mansingh Stadium looking to occupy the top spot in the points table. The presence of Andre Russell, who has scored 207 runs off 77 deliveries this season, adds to an air of intimidation around them.
Their seam bowling, however, remains a concern. Their economy (10.00) is the highest among all teams this season and their average of 1.75 wickets per game the lowest. Harry Gurney, the left-arm T20 specialist, could get a look-in instead of Lockie Ferguson, but Knight Riders are known to be frugal with their changes.
Royals, though, have their own problems in the pace department. Their highest-paid player, Jaydev Unadkat, was benched for their last game, but his replacement Varun Aaron went for 16 in his only over. Their pace-bowlers' economy of 9.98 is second only to their opponents and they don't quite possess the quality of spin Knight Riders have.
K Gowtham has been off-colour, and while Shreyas Gopal's three-wicket haul from the last match does infuse some confidence, they're up against an Indian middle order who have chipped in adequately for Knight Riders.
If Royals win the toss, they'd be better off chasing. The only game Knight Riders have lost is while batting first, where they failed to gauge a good-enough total despite Andre Russell's half-century. Royals' win over Royal Challengers Bangalore showed that everyone in their top order - barring captain Ajinkya Rahane - is in solid touch. Samson's availability could give them a lift.
Eventually, Royals' chances depend on whether they can hold their nerves in the big moments. Their three losses so far could've all easily been wins on different days, and if they've followed Knight Riders' games against the other teams, they'll know one missed opportunity could cost them the contest.
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Ashton Turner joined the Royals last week, and could be match-ready after a few days of acclimatisation. There are still question marks over Samson's availability. For Knight Riders, their first XI remains fit, especially after their five-day break before the Bangalore game.
They met in the Eliminator last year, where Knight Riders recovered from 51 for 4 on the back of rapid knocks from Russell (49*) and Dinesh Karthik (52) to post 169. After that, Knight Riders cut the boundaries with the ball, with Royals falling 25 short despite losing only four wickets.
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Jos Buttler (wk), 2 Ajinkya Rahane (capt), 3 Sanju Samson, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Rahul Tripathi, 7 K Gowtham, 8 Jofra Archer, 9 Varun Aaron, 10 Dhawal Kulkarni, 11 Shreyas Gopal
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Sunil Narine, 2 Chris Lynn, 3 Robin Uthappa, 4 Nitish Rana, 5 Shubman Gill, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk, capt), 7 Andre Russell, 8 Piyush Chawla, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Harry Gurney, 11 Prasidh Krishna
Rahul Tripathi could be used by Royals as a floater, even batting as high as No. 3. He scores at a strike-rate of 166.67 against Sunil Narine, 242.90 against Kuldeep Yadav and 285.70 against Prasidh Krishna, and been out only once to either of them. The reason he shouldn't open is his two dismissals in seven deliveries to Knight Riders' new-ball spinner Piyush Chawla.
Shreyas Gopal should be conserved for Nitish Rana. The left-handed batsman has scored at a strike-rate of 159.43 this season, but at only 88.50 against right-arm legbreak. He's been out to legspinners thrice already. Gopal could also be used at the death; he's conceded only 14 runs in 19 balls between overs 16-20, at an astonishing economy of 4.40.
Stats and trivia
Among all batsmen since IPL 2018, Ben Stokes has the lowest batting average, has hit the least number of boundaries (27), and at 14.3 deliveries lasts the least number of balls per innings (minimum 200 balls)
Between overs 7-15 this season, Nitish Rana has scored the most runs (136) by any batsman and has the second-highest strike-rate (170). Only Chris Gayle (209) scores faster in the middle overs.