Can Royal Challengers Bangalore lift themselves up against buoyant Chennai Super Kings?
After the first round of matches in the UAE, Super Kings appear to be a far superior side than Royal Challengers
On paper, this is a clash between two top sides who both have had good results in IPL 2021 so far. But, after the first round of matches since IPL 2021 re-started, there appears to be a wider gulf between Chennai Super Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore than a difference of just two points suggests. Super Kings outdid Mumbai Indians
at their own game, seemingly dead and buried but rising, like Undertaker in WWE, to deliver chokeslams and tombstone piledrivers to the defending champions. Royal Challengers, on the other hand, sank to one of their heaviest defeats against Kolkata Knight Riders
What Royal Challengers missed in their first return game was the runs AB de Villiers
and Glenn Maxwell
had provided in the India leg of the tournament. The rest of the batting had revolved around the two middle-order powerhouses, but when neither got going, it seemed to leave a big hole in the line-up. However, it was just one game into the re-start, and Virat Kohli
did stress that there was no reason for the team to panic.
But could that prompt a rethink in their combination? There is Tim David
waiting, on the back of a successful year and a recent outing in the CPL that brought consistent runs at a rapid pace. Bringing him in would mean two changes: a batter and one of Wanindu Hasaranga/Kyle Jamieson sitting out, while David and a bowler - likely Shahbaz Ahmed - come into the equation. However, given that it's been only one match into this leg, Kohli might not want to make too many changes.
Super Kings, meanwhile, began their UAE leg in dire fashion, before effecting a miraculous turn-around built on Ruturaj Gaikwad
's remarkable innings. It was the sort of win - against a bogey opposition - that infuses a side with extra belief.
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ought to have completed his mandatory quarantine period, which means he is available for Super Kings. The question is, who can they drop among Faf du Plessis, Moeen Ali, Dwayne Bravo and Josh Hazlewood to fit Curran in? They will also have to balance that with Ambati Rayudu
's fitness. His X-ray showed no broken bones, but he did sustain a bad bruise on his left elbow. If Rayudu is still not match-fit, there is a replacement available in Robin Uthappa. Super Kings could think of bringing in Curran for du Plessis too. Otherwise, there could be a straight swap of Curran for Bravo, though that would be extremely harsh on Bravo.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Ruturaj Gaikwad, 2 Moeen Ali, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 MS Dhoni (capt, wk), 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 Sam Curran, 8 Dwayne Bravo, 9 Shardul Thakur, 10 Deepak Chahar, 11 Josh Hazlewood
Royal Challengers Bangalore: 1 Virat Kohli (capt), 2 Devdutt Padikkal, 3 KS Bharat (wk), 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 AB de Villiers, 6 Sachin Baby, 7 Kyle Jamieson, 8 Wanindu Hasaranga, 9 Harshal Patel, 10 Mohammed Siraj, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal
It's not really a punt, more of an 'everyone is aware of this' tactic - but Royal Challengers will be looking to target Suresh Raina with their quicker bowlers. Raina has scored 61 runs against pace in IPL 2021 so far, and 66 against spin. The strike rates tell the full story though - being 91 and 183 respectively. Raina was made to hop around by Mumbai's pacers and was out to a fuller ball when camped on the back foot expecting a short ball. Jamieson and Siraj, particularly, are likely to be pressed into service as soon as Raina comes out to bat. de Villiers is a complete T20 batter, notwithstanding his first-ball dismissal against Knight Riders, but teams must exploit the hint of a weakness if they see one. Since IPL 2019, de Villiers has been middling against fingerspin, with an average of 20.7 and a strike rate of 112. In Ravindra Jadeja and Moeen Ali, there are two competent fingerspinners Super Kings can use to try and tie de Villiers down. While overall Super Kings have won 17 out of 27 matches in this contest, the recent record is more even, with Royal Challengers winning two of their last five matches (since IPL 2018). Kohli is 66 runs shy of becoming just the fifth man to get to 10,000 runs in T20 cricket, behind Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Shoaib Malik and David Warner.
Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo