It has been a strange first half of the competition for Lucknow Super Giants as they have struggled to translate the firepower in the squad into performances on the field.
While some may argue that they are still very much in contention for a spot in the playoffs considering their position on the points table, KL Rahul and his men would be well aware of the blunders that caused two out of their three losses thus far.
Lucknow squandered a solid foundation in the last game as they required 31 off 36 deliveries with nine wickets in hand to go down by seven runs against the reigning champions.
"I don't know how it has happened," said a stunned skipper after the defeat but promised to take it on the chin and move forward.
"We'll have to take it on the chin. It is just a game, and we still have four wins in seven, but this is going to sting for a while," Rahul added.
Six days after this heart-wrenching loss, Lucknow have an opportunity to make amends as they set foot in Mohali against a high-flying Punjab Kings for the first of their reverse fixture on Friday, April 28.
After a bit of a start-stop tournament for Punjab, they finally managed to tick most boxes in their dominant win against Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede Stadium to gain some momentum in their campaign.
While they will be sweating over the fitness of their skipper, Shikhar Dhawan who is nursing an injury, Punjab have an all-round depth in their squad to challenge the Super Giants in their backyard.
Things to watch out for
Arshdeep's red-hot form
In a high-scoring thriller in Mumbai a couple of nights ago, Arshdeep Singh was the shining star for the Kings in their 13-run win. With 16 runs needed off the final over, the left-arm pacer shattered the stumps and Mumbai's dream twice in the over with two toe-crushing yorkers.
In the IPL since 2021, Arsheep has bowled 44 overs at the death and conceded at an economy rate of 8.5 runs per over, which is the third-best among bowlers with a minimum of 30 overs in that phase.
With Kagiso Rabada not in the best of rhythm and the indifferent form of Sam Curran and Nathan Ellis, the 24-year-old is leading Punjab's bowling attack with his immaculate consistency and calm demeanour.
The visiting side is known to struggle in the middle overs and at the death, and Arshdeep's red-hot form will compound to their existing woes.
Onus on Deepak Hooda
The Super Giants have been heavily reliant on their openers, KL Rahul and Kyle Mayers to lay a solid foundation for them with the bat and give the team much-needed impetus in the powerplay.
While the duo have more often than not delivered for the team in terms of runs, their sluggish start has often led to the middle order trying to attack from the get-go, leading to their downfall.
Another significant reason for Lucknow's dismal performance in the middle overs has been the form of Deepak Hooda. The right-handed batter was the glue to their batting unit in the last edition but has failed to grab his opportunities in the first seven games.
The 28-year-old has managed only 41 runs in seven innings at an average of 5.86, the second-lowest for a batter with a minimum of five innings in the tournament. With the middle order under fire for lack of runs, Hooda will hold the key for the team in their bid to turn their fortunes around in the second half of the competition.
Will Punjab manage to spin a web?
One of the chinks in the armour for Punjab Kings has been the dismal performance of their spinners, especially Rahul Chahar. After making a mark for the Mumbai Indians and donning the national colours last year, a lot was expected out of the youngster.
However, the leg spinner has failed to weave his magic and scalped only two wickets in 23 overs at an average of 94.5 and an economy of 8.2 runs per over.
Overall, the tweakers have struggled for Punjab in the seven games and picked only nine wickets at an average runs per wicket of 48.7, the worst among all the teams in the competition. The team management would expect the spinners to dent the opposition with regular strikes in the middle overs and help the team stem the flow of runs.
Pitch & conditions
Over the years, the wicket in Mohali has been conducive for strokeplay, with the average first innings score in the six innings thus far being around 170 runs and the average winning total is 183 runs. The fast bowlers have been more effective at this venue and pouched 24 out of the 34 wickets this season which is around 70.6 percent compared to 10 scalps by the spinners.
While the wicket does not assist the spinners much, the boundaries are relatively on the bigger side compared to other venues in India, and they would enjoy bowling on this surface with plenty of support in the deep.
> KL Rahul and Kyle Mayers are the top two run-getters for Lucknow Super Giants in the tournament, with 262 and 243 runs, respectively. It is fair to say the duo will be the vital cog in the batting unit of the visiting side.
In the seven innings, the skipper has been dismissed on six occasions to the ball targetting the stumps, and Punjab could opt to bowl straight to him in this clash.
For Mayers, the West Indian batter has been troubled by left-arm spinners and averages only 13 against them this year with two dismissals. Considering this match-up, it will not be a surprise if Harpreet Brar is assigned the role of bowling with the new ball.
> Sam Curran set the Wankhede alight with his blistering knock in the last game against Mumbai Indians. The southpaw is known to take the attack to the opposition bowling unit early in the innings. However, he has been watchful against leg spinners this season and scored 27 off 24 deliveries, including two dismissals. With Ravi Bishnoi and Amit Mishra in the ranks, Rahul can unleash one of the duo as soon as Curran walks into bat.
If Shikhar Dhawan is fit, he will walk into the side and replace Atharva Taide at the top of the order. Depending on the toss, the home team can also opt for Sikandar Raza in the middle order, along with Nathan Ellis as the impact substitute.
Punjab Kings: Atharva Taide / Shikhar Dhawan, Prabhsimran Singh, Harpreet Singh Bhatia, Liam Livingstone, Sikandar Raza, Sam Curran (Captain), Jitesh Sharma (wk), Shahrukh Khan, Harpreet Brar, Rahul Chahar, Arshdeep Singh,
Despite the stutter, Lucknow will back the same set of players to do the job for the team, with Prerak Mankad or Avesh Khan featuring in the playing XI before being subbed out in the second innings.
Lucknow Super Giants: KL Rahul (Captain), Kyle Mayers, Deepak Hooda, Marcus Stoinis, Krunal Pandya, Nicholas Pooran (wk), Ayush Badoni, Prerak Mankad / Amit Mishra, Naveen-ul-Haq, Avesh Khan, Ravi Bishnoi