Big picture

Both the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Rajasthan Royals have plenty of cream in the middle, but their top orders are squishy at best. After their designated opener Ben Stokes was sidelined from the tournament, the Royals bumped Jos Buttler up to the top, but he has been dismissed twice in three innings inside the powerplay. His opening partner Manan Vohra hasn't lasted beyond the fourth over in four innings. In IPL 2021, no team has lost more wickets in the first six overs than the Royals (ten) and their powerplay run rate of 6.75 is also the worst among all teams in the league.
With Liam Livingstone, a potential top-order replacement, also returning home after citing bubble fatigue, the Royals are scrambling for reinforcements. Yashasvi Jaiswal or Anuj Rawat, who is uncapped in the IPL, could displace Vohra from the top.
The Knight Riders haven't been too flashy in their powerplay either, losing three wickets fewer than the Royals during this phase. While Nitish Rana bounced back from Covid-19 to start the tournament strongly, Shubman Gill continues to lack enough punch in the powerplay. In their last game, even an Andre Russell-led comeback couldn't save them against the Chennai Super Kings.
With both sides languishing in the bottom half of the points table, they can't afford another meltdown at the top, especially on one of the better batting pitches in the IPL.

Team news

England quick Jofra Archer has been ruled out of IPL 2021 after being advised by the ECB to focus on his rehab after having undergone a finger surgery.
The Royals have lined up South Africa batter Rassie van der Dussen as cover. The 32-year-old has never been part of the IPL before but has had stints at the CPL and Global T20 Canada.

Likely XIs

Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Nitish Rana, 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Rahul Tripathi, 4 Sunil Narine, 5 Eoin Morgan (capt), 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Andre Russell, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Kamlesh Nagarkoti/Shivam Mavi, 10 Varun Chakravarthy, 11 Prasidh Krishna
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Jos Buttler (wk), 2 Yashasvi Jaiswal/Anuj Rawat, 3 Sanju Samson (capt & wk), 4 Shivam Dube, 5 David Miller, 6 Riyan Parag, 7 Rahul Tewatia, 8 Chris Morris, 9 Jaydev Unadkat, 10 Chetan Sakariya, 11 Mustafizur Rahman/Andrew Tye

Strategy punt

  • The Knight Riders have opened their attack with spin in all their four games this season, but against the Royals, who have lost all their ten wickets in the powerplay to pace, there is a case for them to give the new ball to Pat Cummins and Prasidh Krishna.
  • The Royals could consider replacing Mustafizur Rahman with Andrew Tye, the slower-ball specialist who can now bowl out-and-out pace as well. If the Knight Riders throw Sunil Narine into the opening mix, Tye could counter him with his excess pace and bounce. Even otherwise, Tye could be matched up with Rana, who like Narine, isn't comfortable against short balls at speeds north of 140kph. So, Jaydev Unadkat slotting in for Shreyas Gopal and Tye for Rahman could potentially give their seam attack a new dimension and prepare them for life in the absence of Archer.

Stats that matter

  • The Knight Riders have won just one out of their nine IPL games at the Wankhede Stadium.
  • Chris Morris has a fine head-to-head record against Russell in T20 cricket. He has got Russell three times in 23 balls while giving away 34 runs.
  • Eoin Morgan has scored 243 runs in five innings against the Royals at an average of 81 and strike rate of 157.79 - his best record against an IPL side. Morgan is also 43 runs away from 7000 in T20 cricket.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo