Big Picture


It's been a good beginning for the Royal Challengers Bangalore to IPL 2021, winning a hard-fought encounter against defending champions Mumbai Indians on the opening day. They looked like they had the chase well in hand, before letting it slip away and needing AB de Villiers to haul it in for them. In that respect, things haven't quite changed for the Royal Challengers, and you suspect de Villiers will still be the man they will look to as saviour, especially given the form he showed against one of the IPL's most formidable bowling sides.

The team that vies with Mumbai Indians for the title of the best bowling side are the Sunrisers Hyderabad, but their bowling was a bit off the boil in their opening encounter against the Kolkata Knight Riders, which ended in a 10-run defeat. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, fresh off a star turn in India's white-ball series against England, was uncharacteristically expensive, going for 45 runs in four overs and only picking up a wicket with the final ball of the innings.

The conditions at Chepauk have traditionally favoured spinners. In the first two games at the venue in IPL 2021 though, that's been uneven. The ball was sticking in the surface for the opening match, but the batsmen seemed to have an easier time of it in the second game. However, what remained consistent was that the top-notch T20 bowlers continued to be tough to face, such as Rashid Khan and Jasprit Bumrah. You suspect that if a bowling group that has reasonable pedigree fires cohesively, the surface could still pose a challenge to the batsmen.

In the news


The Royal Challengers are likely to welcome back Devdutt Padikkal in the playing XI. The 20-year-old left-handed opener was among their success stories in IPL 2020, and was in great form in domestic cricket before this edition too. Laid low by Covid-19, he had rejoined the team before the first game but was still advised rest for the first match. Padikkal's return will mean Washington Sundar no longer has to play the makeshift opener's role. Who will sit out for Padikkal will be interesting - with the choices appearing to be between Rajat Padiar and Shahbaz Ahmed. Given they are likely to have seven bowling options without Ahmed, he might be the one to sit out.

The Sunrisers might also be able to have Kane Williamson available for selection, although fitting him into the XI is another issue. Williamson was pronounced not 'match fit' by coach Trevor Bayliss, which was why he missed out in the first game. But with Jonny Bairstow being the Sunrisers' best batsman in the opening match - coming on the heels of a Man of the Series show against India in the T20I series - it's unlikely that he will have to make way. Rashid Khan is of course undroppable, and Mohammad Nabi's bowling might be of vital importance in Chennai.

The Sunrisers might also want to consider whether to continue with Wriddhiman Saha as the keeper and opener or bring in a young batsman who can bat in the middle order instead among Priyam Garg, Virat Singh and Abhishek Sharma. After all, in Bairstow, they have someone who can open and keep.

Likely XIs


Royal Challengers Bangalore: 1 Virat Kohli (capt), 2 Devdutt Padikkal, 3 Rajat Patidar, 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 AB de Villiers (wk), 6 Daniel Christian, 7 Washington Sundar, 8 Kyle Jamieson, 9 Harshal Patel, 10 Mohammed Siraj, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal.

Sunrisers Hyderabad: 1 David Warner (capt), 2 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 3 Manish Pandey, 4 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 5 Vijay Shankar, 6 Mohammad Nabi, 7 Abdul Samad, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Sandeep Sharma, 11 T Natarajan

Strategy punt


Among the Royal Challengers bowlers, the ones David Warner finds toughest to score off are Washington Sundar - and Glenn Maxwell. Against both offspinners, Warner's run-rate hovers at around seven, but against the other bowlers the Royal Challengers have, Warner is destructive. Sundar already has an acknowledged expertise at bowling in the powerplay, while Maxwell was used upfront too on occasion last year for the Kings XI Punjab. The Royal Challengers may not want to have offspin from both ends to start with, but at least one of the two could be given the new ball to try and rein Warner in.

The Sunrisers' trump card remains Rashid Khan, and they might be best served by using him in the middle, particularly if Maxwell and de Villiers are batting next to each other. Of all bowlers the Sunrisers have, only Rashid has had some measure of control against de Villiers, while he has bossed Maxwell, conceding less than a run a ball against him. He has been terrific against Kohli and Padikkal too, but if the pacers can do the job upfront for the Sunrisers, it leaves Rashid free to control the middle overs.

Stats that matter


  • Virat Kohli is all-time leading run-getter in IPL history, while David Warner sits fourth. However, if you compare only the years in which both played, Warner has an edge on Kohli. In the years both have played the IPL, Warner has 5257 runs at an average of 42.39 and a strike rate of 141.46. Kohli, who has played 166 games to Warner's 143 in those years, has 5216 runs at 39.21 and a strike rate of 130.82.

  • Since Rashid Khan began playing in the IPL, in 2017, no bowler has a better economy rate than his 6.24 in the competition, even when setting a limit as low as 30 balls bowled. The only one who compares in terms of having an economy of less than seven with more than 50 wickets is, expectedly, Jasprit Bumrah, who has conceded runs at 6.90, and has taken 85 wickets to Rashid's 77.

Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo