Royal Challengers Bangalore have won five of their six games in the Indian Premier League 2021, and along with Chennai Super Kings and Delhi Capitals, are looking like the team to beat this season. Virat Kohli and Co. have been playing a comprehensive brand of cricket, but they are also winning those key moments in close encounters, something that they haven't really done in the past on a consistent basis. They now take on under-performing Punjab Kings on Friday (April 30) in Ahmedabad.
Punjab skipper, KL Rahul might be one of the leading run-scorers in the ongoing edition but the stylish right-handed opener hasn't quite stamped his authority yet. The likes of Chris Gayle, Mayank Agarwal and Nicholas Pooran have been inconsistent and Punjab will have to get their act together before it gets too late. Unlike Bangalore, Punjab have been conservative with their approach and have lost four of their six games.
TIME TO BRING IN MALAN?
There's a reason why Dawid Malan is the top-ranked T20I batsman. The left-hander from England, who is yet to play a game this season, could come in place of Gayle who has only scored 119 runs in six innings at a mediocre strike rate of 119. Punjab (7.6) have the second-worst scoring rate after Mumbai Indians (7.3) in IPL 2021 and it's largely because of their top-order. Amongst their batsmen who have played at least three innings, Shahrukh Khan (135.52) and Deepak Hooda (154.92) are the only two with a strike rate of over 130.
Malan is someone who takes time to settle in before going bonkers in the latter half of his innings. The 33-year-old could hold the Punjab batting unit together, allowing Rahul, Agarwal and others to bat more freely. Malan didn't look at his best against India in the T20I series, but with Gayle not firing, there is no harm in trying someone new at No. 3. And, the man we are talking about averages over 50 and has a strike rate of 144.31 in T20Is.
The onus will mostly be on their openers Rahul and Agarwal who were needlessly defensive against Kolkata Knight Riders on a surface that wasn't that bad, as Bangalore and Delhi Capitals showed us on Tuesday. The two wasted 54 deliveries between them and only scored 50 runs. As a result, Punjab could only score 123/9 in their 20 overs and Kolkata chased it down with more than three overs to spare.
Now, what about Pooran? The swashbuckling batsman from West Indies is no more a "young talent" and the Punjab team management would have expected a lot from him prior to the season. However, he has scored only 29 runs in five innings and has also been dismissed for a duck three times. Yes, Pooran generally bats in the second half of the innings but he had a couple of opportunities where he had more than enough time to build his innings, but couldn't. Moises Henriques too hasn't done anything special and Punjab could easily bring in one of the Indian talents - Mandeep Singh, Sarfaraz Khan or Prabhsimran Singh - in place of either Pooran or Henriques.
HOW DO YOU GET PAST ABD, MAXWELL, PADIKKAL...
And, we didn't even mention Kohli! The Bangalore captain has so far managed 163 runs at an average of 32.60 and a strike rate of 126.35 but has taken the back seat with the aforementioned names dominating the batting display for Bangalore. Kohli did show some form against Rajasthan Royals but hasn't been able to build on that, having scored 8 and 12 in his last two innings. Now, Kohli is not someone who enjoys taking the back seat. He likes to be the centre of attraction and if he could get back to his usual best, it would only strengthen Bangalore's chances of winning the title.
Padikkal got that superb century against Rajasthan, while Maxwell has contributed in almost every game, but it's de Villiers who Punjab would be more worried about. The Superman from South Africa smoked 75* off 42 deliveries against Delhi and propelled Bangalore to a competitive total of 171. In the process, he also became the quickest to 5,000 runs in IPL (in terms of balls faced). The right-hander has got this ability to play some superhuman shots on difficult tracks and Punjab would be wary of the damage he can cause at the death. After all, 71.56 percent of his total runs this season have come in the last five overs.
THE EVOLUTION OF SIRAJ
Mohammed Siraj has become a different beast ever since making his Test debut in Australia. When Delhi needed 14 runs in the last match and had Rishabh Pant and Shimron Hetmyer at the crease, Kohli gave the final over to Siraj ahead of Daniel Sams and the right-arm paceman did the job for his team. Siraj kept nailing those yorkers and got the equation down to 10 off two deliveries. He straightaway went wide of Pant and didn't allow the left-hander to get underneath the ball. Bangalore won the game by one run and Siraj was rightly hailed for his performance under tremendous pressure, something that he has displayed throughout this season.
Punjab - KL Rahul (c & wk), Mayank Agarwal, Dawid Malan, Deepak Hooda, Nicholas Pooran, Moises Henriques, Shahrukh Khan, Chris Jordan, Mohammed Shami, Ravi Bishnoi, Arshdeep Singh.
Bangalore - Virat Kohli (c), Devdutt Padikkal, Rajat Patidar/Mohammed Azharuddeen, Glenn Maxwell, AB de Villiers (wk), Washington Sundar, Daniel Sams, Kyle Jamieson, Harshal Patel, Yuzvendra Chahal, Mohammed Siraj.