We look at the two remaining teams in this year's IPL, both of whom have struggled in recent times and will want to get a march over the other when they meet today
The princely team from Rajasthan, the Royals, started the IPL with a bang by winning the inaugural season in 2008. Since then, it has been all gloom for the franchise and they have reached the play-offs only three times (2013, 2015 and 2018) RR were known to be very mean spenders in the IPL auctions but, since their reintroduction in 2018, they have splashed huge amounts on certain players, for example Jaydev Unadkat for a whopping INR 11.5 crore (£1.08m) that year. This time, they went a step further by splashing INR 16.24 crore (£1.58m), is the highest amount paid for any player in the IPL auction, on Chris Morris. They have also announced a new captain in Sanju Samson. RR will hope that all their big-money players and their new captain rise to the challenge this season.
Recap of last year: RR started the 2020 season with a bang in Sharjah by winning their first two matches, but once they moved venues, their form seemed to taper off and won only one of their next five. They needed five wins from the remaining seven to qualify for the playoffs but could only manage three as they ended up with the wooden spoon. Sanju Samson started the tournament brilliantly with a couple of attractive half-centuries but he was inconsistent thereafter. There were a few bright spots such as Jofra Archer's bowling and Rahul Tewatia's allround performances. Archer was the most economical bowler of 2020 season and, after also shining with bat, he was rightly awarded the MVP. However, the other bowlers could not back him up and this was the main reason for their failure.
How did they fare at the 2021 auction? RR came into the auction after releasing their 2020 captain Steve Smith and they had quite a few holes to plug but the second highest purse with INR 34.85 crore (£3.4m) to fill them with. They had to find an able partner for Jofra Archer and eventually plumped for Chris Morris for a record price. They then purchased Bangladeshi left-arm paceman Mustafizur Rahman at his base price of INR 1 crore (£99,000) and welcomed back English allrounder Liam Livingstone for INR 70 Lakhs (£74,000). They also strengthened their middle order by making a smart buy in the shape of the hard-hitting Indian allrounder Shivam Dube for INR 4.4 crore (£434,000) and tidied up with a few promising Indian domestic talents such as Chetan Sakariya, Akash Singh, KC Cariappa and Kuldip Yadav. They could have done with a good off spinner as the slower bowling looks one-dimensional.
Strengths and weaknesses: The management took some hard decisions, handing over the leadership to Samson while roping in Kumar Sangakkara as the director of cricket. Sanga's experience will add value. Chris Morris adds to depth to their death bowling and is also a mighty hitter, if injury-prone – it will be interesting to see if he can last the whole tournament. The addition of Shivam Dube also strengthens their middle order and adds one more hitter to their armoury. It will be interesting to note how Samson copes with the captaincy. Jofra Archer, of course, has had surgery on his hand and is not available for at least four to five matches – maybe more – and the quality of the Indian pace bowling at their disposal is also a concern as they have proved expensive. Archer's absence could turn out to be the deciding factor on how they end up performing this season. Their slow bowling is dominated by leg spinners and roping in someone who turns the ball the other way would have been a good move.
Key players: While Sanju Samson has led Kerala in domestic cricket, leading an IPL franchise with a host of International stars is an altogether different challenge. It will be interesting to see how he balances his captaincy with his batting. After a successful Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy with the bat, Shivam Dube will be itching to cement his position in the middle order and will look to gain his place back in the Indian team. Chris Morris, meanwhile, has to justify his price tag with both bat and ball and try to remain fit throughout the tournament. Chetan Sakariya, the 22-year-old left-arm medium pacer from Saurashtra had a very impressive Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (12 wickets from five matches) and can make a statement for the Indian quick bowlers in the squad. Finally, the English pair of Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes. Both these players will be crucial for Rajasthan Royals especially as they may well open the batting together.
Predictions: As usual, RR start the 2021 season as dark horses. The absence of Jofra Archer during the initial phase of the tournament will be a huge blow for them. If they manage to have a decent start during this phase, they have a fighting chance to make it to the play-offs. Otherwise they will struggle.
In a parallel world, the collective might of Priety Zinta's exuberance and the Universe Boss's mere presence should have won Punjab Kings an IPL trophy by now. But in reality, they are still waiting to get their hands on that coveted metal. Kings XI Punjab or Punjab Kings kind of has a palindromic feel to it. Will this name change bring a change in fortunes? A team never short on ability but always left to play catch up they are renowned poor starters who end up being party-poopers for other teams. This year they would rather want to host their own party with the silverware in their cabinet.
Recap of last year: Tied at 12 points with CSK and RR, the Kings XI Punjab team – now Punjab Kings – finished sixth. It was a season of what might have been as they lost a couple of close games from a winning position. They won a sensational game against MI on the back of two consecutive Super Overs. The Universe Boss – Chris Gayle – who wasn't picked until halfway through the tournament, tried to revive their fortunes, and thereon, Punjab won five on the trot before losing steam in the last two, conceding a play-off spot.
How did they fare at the 2021 auction? They bounded in to the room with the biggest purse of INR 53.2 crore (£5.2m), a top heavy side expected to spend big on allrounders and seamers. Surprisingly, they let go of Shakib Al Hasan, who could have fit perfectly into that middle order, as well as providing four quality overs. They acquired the services of Moises Henriques for INR 4.2 crore and Fabian Allen, the West Indies allrounder. Dawid Malan, who was ranked the best T20I batsman until recently, was a steal at the Indian equivalent of £148,000. But the buys which left heads shaking were Jhye Richardson (INR 14 crore – £1.38m) and Riley Meredith (INR 8 crore), the 24-year-old quickie from Tasmania, purely on the basis of recent performances in the BBL. Local Indian talent also found a home with the batsman Shahrukh Khan, an amazing talent from Chennai who had an excellent domestic Syed Mushtaq Ali season, fetching a pricy £518,000 and Jalaj Saxena, Saurabh Kumar and Utkarsh Singh arriving for more modest sums.
Strengths and weaknesses: A top order brimming with strokemakers, Punjab can in theory score big consistently. And their pace attack, on paper, seems to be in safe hands with Mohammed Shami, Richardson, Meredith and Chris Jordan. But this is a team filled with players either out of form, coming back from injury, unproven in Indian conditions, or at the wrong side of their cricketing careers. Few of their batsmen have any form, while Malan had his first experience in Indian conditions during the recent limited-overs series and he struggled to get the ball off the square until the fifth T20. Such conditions are also alien to Richardson and Meredith. And the Universe Boss is in his 40s.
Key players: One cannot look past Chris Gayle when talking about impact players in T20. Holder of every single batting record possible in T20s – 13,720 runs with 86 fifties and 22 hundreds and a highest individual score of 175* – he has bludgeoned 1,009 sixes and 1,053 fours in a not-so-short career. But can his body take the drill of 14 league matches? Mohammed Shami's form will be crucial as he has an uncanny knack for picking up early wickets which can put the opposition on the back foot. His excellent pace, accurate lengths and just enough swing to trouble the batsmen got him 20 wickets last season. The Kings would like him to also control the flow of runs at the death with his yorker-bowling ability. Nicholas Pooran is a terrific hitter of the cricket ball, one who is rated highly by Gayle himself, but for all his talent, he still has not been able to convert it into match-winning performances. His recent performances for the West Indies against Sri Lanka left much to be desired and this needs to be his breakthrough season. When he is not on wicket-keeping duties, he is a brilliant fielder in the outfield – who can forget the fabulous save he made last season on the midwicket boundary? KL Rahul has been consistent with the bat, scoring around 600 runs in each of the previous three seasons but his scoring rate dipped to 129 last season with him taking the onus upon himself to bat through the innings. This mean he was not able to tee off in the latter part of the innings. Jhye Richardson picked up 29 wickets in the recent BBL at a terrific strike rate of 12.7 balls per wicket. With a good, repetitive action and smooth run-up, he can swing the new ball and he also has different tricks up his sleeve for the death. He took his team, Perth Scorchers, all the way to the final. Punjab will be hoping he can work his charms the IPL too.
Predictions: Punjab have always flattered to deceive. Can they put together a string of consistent performances? Lack of proper finishers in both disciplines suggests that they will again end in the bottom four.