Last season, consistency was one of the characteristics that defined Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad – their scrappy, minimal-fuss brand of cricket making them popular with fans. This season, however, while Royals have hit on a winning patch and surged to the top half of the table, Sunrisers, despite big additions to their batting, are faltering lower down.
In Sunrisers last game, AB de Villiers played the kind of innings few teams could have done anything about, but their two victories have shown how critical it is for their top order to fire. Perhaps the best example was their victory against Delhi Daredevils in the UAE, where Aaron Finch and Shikhar Dhawan added 56, the best opening stand for the side so far – which set the base for a score of 184. Compare that to their losses in which their highest total has been 155.
Like their batting, the Sunrisers bowling also relies heavily on two individuals – Amit Mishra and Dale Steyn. While Steyn will have recovered from the mauling by de Villiers, Sunrisers could bring back Mishra on a track that can be expected to be a little slower.
Both teams had initially found bowling resources scarce, but the depth of their squads offered appropriate remedy. Both MS Dhoni and Stephen Fleming have lauded the balance of their side. Ishwar Pandey and Mohit Sharma have ensured their side can field a daunting set of overseas batsmen and have changed perception that spin is Super Kings’ strong suit.
It is said that one must live in the present and not dwell too much on the past. But if you are Kolkata Knight Riders, the past refuses to leave you. It keeps playing out in loop in the present, each newer version scarier than the previous one. Exactly a week ago, Knight Riders squandered a strong position against Rajasthan Royals, brought about a Super Over on themselves and then lost on the boundary count. A day ago, they motored to 121 for 0 in pursuit of 171 against the same opponents. Fifty runs needed, six overs left, all wickets intact. Piece of cake? Not quite, if you panic so much that you lose six wickets for the addition of two runs.
If points were to be earned for scoring self-goals, Knight Riders would top the table. They are earned for wins, though, and Knight Riders have only two victories from seven matches. Which is exactly how many Delhi Daredevils have from as many games. Both sides will need the second half of their campaigns to be the opposite of how the first half has panned out. Even five wins each from their remaining seven games might not earn them a spot in the playoffs.
In their last meeting in Dubai, Royal Challengers Bangalore stomped all over an unsure Mumbai Indians, restricting the latter to 115 and then chasing it down with seven wickets to spare, despite being reduced to 17 for 3.
Both teams will meet on Tuesday at the Wankhede with similar wins in their previous games, wins that could easily have turned into defeats had it not been for individual performances and the teams are similar on many other counts, too. Mumbai and Royal Challengers have powerful line-ups on paper, but that potential has been inconsistent on the field, save for the odd knocks from their stars.
Bowlers from both sides have, given the opportunity, done well but have also found themselves defending a few sub-par totals. Royal Challengers bowlers, however, have had a better run than Mumbai, with the presence of genuine quicks in Mitchell Starc and Varun Aaron and a legspinner in Yuzvendra Chahal.
Chennai Super Kings captain MS Dhoni won the toss and chose to field on what he termed a “slightly sticky” pitch at the Feroz Shah Kotla. Dhoni said there was some moisture under the surface, and thought it might become better to bat on as the match progressed.
Kevin Pietersen, the Delhi Daredevils captain, said he also wanted to field, contending it was “quite hard to defend here”.
Daredevils made one change to their side, bringing in the seam-bowling allrounder Laxmi Shukla for the legspinner Rahul Sharma. Super Kings, meanwhile, were unchanged, which means they have stuck with the same eleven for six straight matches.
Kolkata Knight Riders must be slightly relieved they are not facing Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur even though it is supposed to be a home game for the latter. Within a week of conceding the match to Royals after a Super Over in Abu Dhabi, Knight Riders are facing them again, this time in Ahmedabad, which was assigned as the new home for Royals because the Rajasthan Cricket Association reportedly failed to produce the clearances from state authorities.
Would Royals be bothered? Not likely. Unlike bigger teams, they are used to these background irritations. They had a torrid time last year but still managed to finish in the top four. This year, their performances seem no different; they have been efficient as usual. Ask 11 people to pick the top performers for Royals this season and there is a good chance that all of them would disagree with the rest. Royals have a decent record at Ahmedabad with three wins in four games.