The two teams largely responsible for making the second season of the IPL as closely contested as it is at present clash in the first match of Thursday's double-header in Centurion. A week ago, there were only five serious contenders for semi-final spots because Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rajasthan Royals (along with Kolkata Knight Riders) were languishing at the bottom of the league after losing several of their initial matches. However, both teams have engineered a turnaround in form and have won three out of their last four matches to claw their way back into contention for the knockout stages. Bangalore and Rajasthan are level on four wins each after eight games, though the defending champions are a point ahead because of a washout.
Rajasthan have had no problems with their bowling attack, apart from the suspicion over the injured Kamran Khan's action, but their batting was heavily reliant on Yusuf Pathan's muscle. Their strategy appeared to be to send their lesser batsmen up the order to try and do as much as they can and leave the pressure of the final stages of the chase to Yusuf, who delivered in each of their first three victories. The most encouraging aspect of their most recent win, against Kings XI Punjab, is that they posted the season's first 200-plus score with almost no contribution from Yusuf.
Bangalore were also suffering from crippling batting problems. One of their openers inevitably got out for a duck and their hopes of Jesse Ryder and Kevin Pietersen blasting them to large scores came to naught. Bangalore frequently lost two to three wickets during the Powerplay leaving them with little momentum and ammunition for the rest of the innings. Even the first two of their hat-trick of wins was set up by their bowlers. However, that all changed in their last game. Against the toughest bowling attack of the tournament, the Lasith Malinga-led Mumbai Indians, Jacques Kallis and Robin Uthappa steered Bangalore to an astonishing nine-wicket victory and strengthened hopes of a dramatic revival.
Form guide (completed matches, most recent first)
Rajasthan Royals - WWLWL
Graeme Smith had scored 65 runs in six innings before exploding against Punjab with 77 off 44 balls. Rajasthan's batting has also been bolstered by useful, if not match-winning, contributions from Lee Carseldine, Abhishek Raut, Ravindra Jadeja and Naman Ojha and if they continue to chip it, it will ease the responsibility on Yusuf. Yusuf has also given Rajasthan handy and early breakthroughs with the new ball but their bowling has been boosted by Shane Harwood who has taken three wickets in two games with an economy rate of 6.37.
Royal Challengers Bangalore - WWWLL
After enduring a horrible run with the bat - 57 runs in six innings - Uthappa struck form with an unbeaten 66 off 42 balls. Kallis also struck his second half-century of the tournament but the find for Bangalore in the victory against Mumbai was Dillion du Preez. He struck twice in his first over and finished with 3 for 32.
Watch out for
The two legspinner-captains: Anil Kumble is Bangalore's best bowler with 10 wickets and an economy-rate of 5.82. Bangalore have also won both games since Kumble took over from Pietersen. Warne is also his team's highest wicket-taker and drives his team with shrewd and inspired captaincy. At SuperSport Park, Kumble's reliability will clash against Shane Warne's charisma.
Rajasthan gave Amit Singh a debut in the game against Punjab and he impressed with 3 for 9 in four overs. They had also included Niraj Patel in the side but he didn't get an opportunity to perform. Given the margin of victory against Punjab, Rajasthan are likely to retain the same side.
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Graeme Smith, 2 Naman Ojha (wk), 3 Lee Carseldine, 4 Abhishek Raut, 5 Ravindra Jadeja, 6 Yusuf Pathan, 7 Niraj Patel, 8 Shane Warne (capt), 9 Shane Harwood, 10 Siddharth Trivedi, 11 Amit Singh.
Bangalore packed their side with local experience and picked four South Africans as their overseas players against Mumbai. Two of them, Kallis and du Preez, played crucial roles in the win. Bangalore also are unlikely to make changes unless they want an additional spinner in KP Appanna.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: 1 Jacques Kallis, 2 Wasim Jaffer, 3 Robin Uthappa, 4 Rahul Dravid, 5 Virat Kohli, 6 Mark Boucher (wk), 7 Roelof van der Merwe, 8 Dillon du Preez, 9 Praveen Kumar, 10 Anil Kumble (capt), 11 KP Appanna/R Vinay Kumar.
Stats and trivia
Rajasthan were dismissed for 58 in their first match against Bangalore this season. It was the lowest total in the IPL.
Kumble's figures of 5 for 5 against Rajasthan are the second best of the IPL and the best this season.
The 135-run partnership between Smith and Ojha is the highest of the second season and the second highest overall.
Bangalore won their first game against Rajasthan this season by 75 runs in Cape Town. They scored 133 for 8 and dismissed Rajasthan for 58.
Rajasthan won both the matches against Bangalore in the 2008 season. The margin in the first game at the Chinnaswamy Stadium was seven wickets with 17 balls to spare, while in Jaipur it was 65 runs.