Before IPL 2019, not many would have pointed at the return fixture between Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals as being the one they most looked forward to watching. In the post-mankad world, though, this is going to be a game where non-strikers will be watched as closely as batsmen and bowlers. Under particular scrutiny will be the two protagonists of the drama that kicked off these two teams' IPL 2019 - R Ashwin and Jos Buttler. Will the Kings XI captain feel any additional pressure, knowing that there might be an extra edge to this contest? Will Buttler come out more determined to cart the bowlers everywhere because of what he has since said he perceives as a wrong decision?
Amid that subplot and drama, the bigger picture remains the race for qualification. Despite a stirring win against Mumbai Indians away in their last match, Royals' chances look a bit slim, with just two wins from seven games. They have been on the wrong end of four close results, and while different aspects of their execution went awry at various points, the common thread was their tendency to concede the big moments to the opposition. Their bowling has been led by Jofra Archer and Shreyas Gopal, but the support cast has regularly let them down, which is another area they need to work on.
Kings XI have had an up-and-down campaign so far, not stringing together enough wins to be truly dominant, but never letting too many losses pile up to lose steam either. Ashwin has proved himself an astute captain and reliable bowler. His team, though, has been a bit of a slightly off-kilter machine. You know that if all the wheels align, it will go forward more smoothly. Lots of their wins have been scrappy affairs, and perhaps one truly dominant performance will mark a turnaround for a better ride ahead.
In the news
Hardus Viljoen was unwell for Kings XI's last game, and that opened up a spot for Andrew Tye, but the Australia seamer conceded 40 runs in four overs without taking a wicket, so if Viljoen is fit, he could slot back in for Tye. Depending on the conditions, Mujeeb Ur Rahman could be the replacement option too.
Ben Stokes missed Royals' last match due to injury and they brought in Liam Livingstone. He, however, bowled only one over that went for 13 and batted at No. 6, making 1 off 2 balls. If Stokes hasn't recovered, Royals could throw Ashton Turner into the mix. But his right shoulder problem could restrict his throwing and bowling.
It was both sides' opening game this season, and it's one not one to forget. When Ashwin ran Buttler out at the non-striker's end, it immediately became the story of the match. Steven Smith was making his return to the IPL, but he walked in when Buttler was out, and went almost unnoticed. Royals were cruising in their chase till then, but that mankad dismissal set off a chain reaction that resulted in a collapse, and a loss. Royals fumed, Ashwin stated plainly that he had acted perfectly within the law. Round 2 should be spicy.
Kings XI Punjab: 1 KL Rahul, 2 Chris Gayle, 3 Mayank Agarwal, 4 Sarfaraz Khan, 5 Mandeep Singh, 6 Nicholas Pooran (wk), 7 Sam Curran, 8 Hardus Viljoen/Mujeeb Ur Rahman, 9 R Ashwin (capt), 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 M Ashwin
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Ajinkya Rahane (capt), 2 Jos Buttler, 3 Sanju Samson (wk), 4 Steven Smith, 5 Rahul Tripathi, 6 Ashton Turner, 7 Shreyas Gopal, 8 Jofra Archer, 9 K Gowtham, 10 Jaydev Unadkat, 11 Dhawal Kulkarni
Kings XI have a stark difference in run rates when the middle overs are broken up into 7-12 and 13-18. They score slower in the second block, which is against the norm. A combination of factors contributes to this: their strong opening partnership and being conservative against spin the chief ones. With the openers - Chris Gayle and KL Rahul - often staying together till past ten overs, their dismissals trigger a slowdown which is more pronounced against spin. To combat this, they could use someone like Nicholas Pooran as a floater, given the license to go out and hit the spinners off their lengths.
Buttler is pretty handy against all types of bowling on most days, but in IPL 2019 so far, he has been more circumspect against spinners. His strike rate against spin is 124.7, compared to 173 against pace. He has also reversed the route he had gone down last year: this season he starts slower and picks up pace in the middle overs. His initial caution and comparative struggles against spin might tempt Ashwin to include Mujeeb and use him up front.
Stats that matter
Shreyas Gopal has the second-best average and strike rate in wins since IPL 2018: 13.6 and 13.3 respectively.
Rahul needs six runs to make 1,000 for Kings XI. He has batted in only 22 innings so far, and if he gets there against Royals, he will be the joint second-fastest to get 1,000 runs for one franchise. The quickest is Shaun Marsh. He scored 1,000 runs in 21 innings, also for Kings XI.
Historically, both teams have been pretty evenly matched. They have won three games each in their six meetings in Mohali. Overall in the IPL, Kings XI have won eight and Royals have won ten of their 18 matches.