In the blue corner, we have Prithvi Shaw, Shikhar Dhawan, Rishabh Pant and others. In the red, there are KL Rahul, Chris Gayle, Nicholas Pooran and friends. The Delhi Capitals' contest against the Punjab Kings is of the kind where, were it a boxing match, there would be the promise of some heavy-duty action in the first few rounds, with the possibility of a peter-out later on.
That's because of how the two teams are made up. Both rely on their top orders to do the bulk of the work, and if the top order falters, then the batting goes from sizzle to fizzle pretty quickly. There are other points in common too: they are stocked with lots of pace options, and each has won one game and lost one. However, while the Capitals might look back at their defeat against the Rajasthan Royals and think they could have won two in two, the Kings would need to pick themselves up after a rather comprehensive wipe-out against the Chennai Super Kings.
This will be the last outing at the Wankhede Stadium for the two teams in IPL 2021. The tracks there have not lived up to the reputation of being batting beauties in the last couple of matches, but given a flat track, there are bound to be fireworks.
What both teams might look for, though, is a bit more batting depth. Each faced a top-order collapse in their last games, which would have made them conscious of how steeply the batting falls off after the top few. While Pant being around allowed the Capitals to at least hit near 150, none of the top five stayed much beyond the powerplay for the Kings, and it needed Shahrukh Khan at No. 6 to drag them just over 100. They both have the personnel in their squads to lengthen the batting, though that would inevitably come at the expense of the bowling, and it's a balancing call they have to take. The Capitals could drop one of their overseas bowlers to bring back Shimron Hetmyer, while the Kings could do the same to bring in a Fabian Allen or a Moises Henriques.
In the news
Anrich Nortje, bowler of the fastest ball in IPL history, is back in the Capitals' team bubble after a Covid-19 scare. Nortje had landed in Mumbai on April 6, and had to spend extended time in quarantine after a positive test, but has subsequently tested negative thrice. The Capitals certainly missed Nortje in their loss against the Royals, and he can now resume his partnership with Kagiso Rabada to provide the pace blast they had last year. Nortje's addition would almost certainly mean a benching for Tom Curran, who hasn't been able to control the flow of runs effectively.
The Capitals have also roped in Shams Mulani as a temporary replacement for Axar Patel, a like-for-like left-arm-spinning allrounder, and brought in Aniruddha Joshi for the injured Shreyas Iyer. It remains to be seen whether either of them can be fitted into the XIs.
Punjab Kings: 1 Mayank Agarwal, 2 KL Rahul (capt, wk), 3 Chris Gayle, 4 Deepak Hooda, 5 Nicholas Pooran, 6 Shahrukh Khan, 7 Jhye Richardson, 8 M Ashwin, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Riley Meredith, 11 Arshdeep Singh
The Capitals didn't use up all of R Ashwin's four overs in their defeat against the Royals, something that coach Ricky Ponting admitted might have been a mistake. They would not want to repeat that in this game, with Ashwin likely to be particularly valuable in the middle, bowling to Gayle and Pooran, both left-handers. Both big-hitting West Indians have not quite managed to get on top of Ashwin. While the offspinner has a long history of success against Gayle and has even kept him to less than a run-a-ball, he bowled superbly to Pooran in IPL 2020's opening game too, getting him for a duck.
With Pooran having fallen twice to short balls in IPL 2021 and yet to score a run, expect Delhi to unleash their considerable pace artillery at him too. For the Kings then, a good start is essential. The Capitals might want to have both Ashwin and a pacer bowling to Pooran, but if Rahul, Agarwal and Gayle can get the team off to a good start, then those plans will come unstuck. And while Pooran may have started off with two ducks, he remains amongst the best hitters of the ball, who can cause mayhem when coming in with a set platform.
Stats that matter
In five IPL games at the Wankhede, Pant has averaged 63.66 at a strike rate of 192.92. Even including games other than the IPL, Pant has enjoyed himself at this venue, averaging 41.83 at a strike rate of 180.57 in nine matches.
Since January 2018, only one batter has scored more than 2000 runs in the IPL: Rahul. He's done it at an average of 54.54, while the strike rate has veered sharply between extremes in past seasons. It remains to be seen which version of Rahul turns up. While the aggressive version worked wonders in the win against the Royals, the collapse against the Super Kings might make him change tack.