DUBAI: A team wanting to make it to the knockout stage of the Indian Premier League (IPL) can only afford a few horror matches in the season. Royal Challengers Bangalore have already had a couple of them, one after the other, early in their season. A campaign that started with encouraging wins now needs to shake off the bad inertia. It can only be a good thing that they face Kings XI Punjab, the strongest team on current form, next; win this and get the anaesthetic you need to numb the wounds from last two losses.
It doesn't sound easy and it's going to be even more difficult in reality. After two good wins, question marks have now been pasted all over on Royal Challengers' batsmen. It now seems that only the inclusion of Chris Gayle can perk the team up. However, there is still no conclusive news on his fitness. Irrespective of Gayle's availability, the rest of the batsmen, especially the middle order, will need to shrug off the uncertainty that has set in. Royal Challengers' bowling is better placed at the moment and they are likely to bring back the impressive Varun Aaron after resting him from the previous game.
Kings XI would have been extremely satisfied with their win against Kolkata Knight Riders. First time in the tournament, their batting came under pressure with the early exits of Glenn Maxwell and David Miller, but their bowlers responded with sustained intensity. Mitchell Johnson has said that he is slowly finding his best after missing out on cricket for a month due to a toe infection and that gives the attack a well-rounded look. Johnson fires it quick, Sandeep Sharma likes to nip it around, L Balaji loves bowling those legcutters and Akshar Patel's left-arm spin is gaining traction.
Watch out for: One thing is for sure that the moment Yuvraj Singh steps out, George Bailey is going to unleash Mitchell Johnson on him. Rewind to October 2013 to trace the beginnings of Yuvraj's slide. Johnson served up a 150-plus short ball to send Yuvraj back for 7 in an ODI in Pune. Another short ball in Mohali and Yuvraj edged it to fall for a first-ball duck. In Nagpur, Yuvraj expected the short ball, but left a mighty gap between the pad and the bat to be bowled for a two-ball duck. Life hasn't smiled at Yuvraj since then (except on the IPL auction day) and Johnson is no happy news.
AB de Villiers did score an unbeaten 45 in Royal Challengers' second win but his last two outings are a cause for concern for his team. Against Knight Riders, he, along with Yuvraj, let the game drift away to the last over before being dismissed, albeit to an exceptional catch by Chris Lynn. Against Rajasthan Royals, he walked in early in the third over in a scenario that should have allowed him enough time to build. Instead, he fell for a duck playing a loose shot to an innocuous delivery. His patchy form seems to have extended from the World T20 where he managed a single half-century. With their campaign floundering a bit, Royal Challengers need the cushion of the old de Villiers.
Stats and trivia: The batsmen from Kings XI and Royal Challengers, along with Delhi Daredevils, have hit the most centuries - five each. The last of them was a 38-ball 101 by David Miller, against Royal Challengers. Virender Sehwag's 37 in the match against Knight Riders was his highest score from his last 13 IPL innings.
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