The Delhi Capitals are flying high, with four wins in five games. Their duo of Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje are seemingly in a healthy mini-battle to outdo each other on the pace stakes, while Marcus Stoinis is delivering on his promise. All of this has complemented their power-packed Indian line-up so well that they cannot fit Ajinkya Rahane in the XI even as we get towards the halfway mark of the competition, with the pitches beginning to slow down.
The Rajasthan Royals, meanwhile, have had to shuffle their players and deviate from their set templates because they have found it hard to adjust to conditions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. So returning to Sharjah, where they have won both their matches, should help after three back-to-back losses that have left them in a delicate position. They are all too familiar with the mid-table jostle, of course, and need one complete performance to give their campaign a much-needed lift.
Jos Buttler's form will encourage them. If Sanju Samson and Steven Smith can find ways to get back among runs, the Royals can breathe easy.
And, not to forget, it's R Ashwin vs Jos Buttler Part 1 for the season too, with the Indian spinner having issued his "first and final warning" to batsmen straying out at the non-striker's end. That's one subplot to keep an eye on.
In the news
- Ben Stokes is on the last bit of his mandatory six-day quarantine, having arrived from New Zealand on Sunday. So, he will not be there for Friday's match but should be available for the Royals' seventh league fixture on October 11 against the Sunrisers Hyderabad.
- The Capitals haven't named a replacement for the injured Amit Mishra. Going by their squad depth, they don't need to, especially with Axar Patel continuing to deliver telling spells and Ashwin showing no signs of discomfort after returning from a shoulder niggle that kept him out for two matches.
- Tom Curran's five outings have fetched him just three wickets at a very high economy of 11.30. Are the Royals better off playing David Miller for a game before Stokes becomes available? Miller will add heft to a batting line-up short of confidence. That will mean they may have to get overs out of spinners Mahipal Lomror and Rahul Tewatia, which could be a bit of a risk owing to the short boundaries in Sharjah.
Delhi Capitals: 1 Prithvi Shaw, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Shreyas Iyer (capt), 4 Rishabh Pant (wk), 5 Shimron Hetmyer, 6 Marcus Stoinis, 7 Axar Patel, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Harshal Patel, 10 Anrich Nortje, 11 Kagiso Rabada
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Yashasvi Jaiswal, 2 Jos Buttler (wk), 3 Sanju Samson, 4 Steven Smith (capt), 5 Mahipal Lomror, 6 Rahul Tewatia, 7 Tom Curran/David Miller, 8 Shreyas Gopal, 9 Jofra Archer, 10 Kartik Tyagi, 11 Ankit Rajpoot
- The Royals should look to open the bowling with Jofra Archer and Shreyas Gopal. Here's why: Prithvi Shaw likes pace on the ball, as does Shikhar Dhawan, who has struggled to get off the blocks quickly. So Gopal will help to take the pace off - and Shaw has been out to the legspinner twice in the 14 balls he has faced from him to date. And Jofra Archer at the other end will hustle both batsmen with pace. Shaw was out to a quick, short ball against the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the previous game, something the Royals can look to replicate against him. Shaw has been out to the short ball 11 times in the IPL overall.
- So far, Nortje has been used primarily in the powerplay (50% of his overs) and Rabada has been held back for the death (50% of his overs). It has worked to perfection. The Royals are top heavy, so maybe there's a case of using them both upfront to hunt in a pack this time. As such, Samson doesn't like short balls into the body - he has been out twice to this variety delivered over 140kph. As for Smith, the good-length delivery hit hard into the pitch has accounted for him twice - both while going for a mow to the leg side. Clearly, the Capitals have the kind of bowlers to target their weak links.
Stats that matter
- Axar Patel's economy of 4.6 is the best among bowlers who have delivered at least ten overs this season.
- Buttler made a 22-ball 67 the last time he played the Capitals. That was his first outing as an opener for the franchise; he has since averaged 53 at the top. He also has nine half-centuries in 18 innings as an opener for the Royals.
- Ankit Rajpoot is one away from 100 T20 wickets.
- The Capitals spinners have conceded only 14 boundaries so far, the least among all spin packs this season.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo