The Punjab Kings and the Sunrisers Hyderabad might be the two bottom-placed sides right now, but in the IPL, if the top teams can provide gripping entertainment, so can the ones languishing behind. Most teams are still trying to identify their best XIs, getting used to the contrasting conditions in Mumbai and Chennai, and wondering how to bowl with the dew or rejig their plans if they lose the toss.
In Chennai, particularly, it becomes slower, and tougher for batting, as the game progresses, which will put the spotlight on the top orders of either side, put the onus on them to collect quick runs and provide a cushion for the death overs. Equally important would be the role of the spinners, especially for the Kings, who have just shifted from Mumbai to Chennai.
With Jonny Bairstow cracking again at the top, they may now consider playing Kedar Jadhav, bought for INR 2 crore in the auction, as he can not only bowl slingy offbreaks but is also used to the Chennai conditions because of his experience with the Chennai Super Kings. He can chaperone the inexperienced middle order of Virat Singh, Abhishek Sharma and Abdul Samad, while Vijay Shankar continues to look for an impactful innings with the bat. Who he replaces, of course, is a matter for debate.
Ideally, they would want to have the class of Kane Williamson back, but his troublesome elbow might force him to sit out again.
For the Kings, a stronger start than in their last game is a must, which means a quicker flow of runs would be expected from captain KL Rahul, who ambled to 61 off 51 while his partner Mayank Agarwal smashed 69 off 36 on a flat pitch. Their middle order is also inexperienced, but has shown promise with Deepak Hooda's six-hitting ability and Shahrukh Khan's muscle down the order. All they need now is for Nicholas Pooran to fire.
The Kings' bowling attack is likely to see changes as they will have to move away from their pace-heavy plans, which conceded plenty of runs in Mumbai. Both Riley Meredith and Jhye Richardson have leaked over ten runs an over in three games and the Kings have the spin duo of Ravi Bishnoi and M Ashwin waiting, while spin-bowling allrounder Jalaj Saxena made his IPL debut over the weekend.
The Sunrisers have lost all three matches while chasing so far, while the Kings are yet to bat second - that might be another thing for the teams to prepare for.
In the news
The Sunrisers would be hoping that Williamson is fit this time, but if he isn't, they could bring in Jadhav for one of the inexperienced middle-order bats, possibly Virat Singh. They are also waiting on the fitness update of T Natarajan, who had a sore knee and was replaced by Khaleel Ahmed the last time.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: 1 David Warner (capt), 2 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 3 Manish Pandey, 4 Kedar Jadhav, 5 Vijay Shankar, 6 Abhishek Sharma, 7 Abdul Samad, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Mujeeb Ur Rahman, 11 Khaleel Ahmed
Punjab Kings: 1 KL Rahul (capt & wk), 2 Mayank Agarwal, 3 Chris Gayle, 4 Deepak Hooda, 5 Nicholas Pooran, 6 Shahrukh Khan, 7 Jalaj Saxena, 8 Jhye Richardson, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Ravi Bishnoi/M Ashwin, 11 Arshdeep Singh
Since Rahul and Chris Gayle are both slow starters, the Kings may want to keep their No. 3 slot flexible. If Agarwal is the first wicket to fall, they may want to send Pooran at No. 3 to not have Rahul and Gayle batting at the same time. Since IPL 2019, Pooran's strike rate in his first ten balls is 159, while Gayle's is 128.
Even though Rashid Khan is usually brought on after the powerplay, there could be a case to give him an over in the first six given his record against Rahul. In the 30 balls the spinner has bowled to him across five T20 innings, he has conceded only 18 runs and struck thrice.
Could Sandeep Sharma come back? He has terrific records against two of the Kings' top three in IPLs: four wickets against Gayle in nine innings while conceding 64 off 59, and three of Agarwal while giving away only 45 off 39. Since Bhuvneshwar Kumar has an economy rate of 10 from three games, the Sunrisers could make it a like-for-like change.
Stats that matter
The Sunrisers are chasing their first-ever win in Chennai, having lost all six matches to date.
Gayle has a terrific record against Khan in all T20s: 105 runs off 62, but has also been dismissed four times by him.
Of all the IPL teams he has played against, Warner has the most fifties against the Kings. Eleven half-centuries at an average of 53.30 and strike rate of 142.
The Sunrisers' middle order has the second-lowest run rate this season, of 7.1, only behind the 6.70 of the Mumbai Indians and the Kolkata Knight Riders.
Rahul is just one short of 5000 T20 runs. He is also one short of 200 sixes in the format.
Pandey (96) and Rahul (98) have the worst strike rates in powerplays this season (minimum 25 runs).