The Bharat Ratna Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana Cricket Stadium in Lucknow poses an imposing figure. It is the sixth largest cricket stadium in the country and put that in contrast with what Uttar Pradesh, as a state, stands for, there is nothing more to discriminate against.
It was ironic that such a stadium, built across 71-acre land with a public-private partnership (PPP) model at a cost of Rs 360 crore, wasn’t a regular IPL fixture. Now that Lucknow Super Giants have entered the fray, it is a one-box ticked for Uttar Pradesh - a journey that cost them almost a billion dollar - the most money spent to buy a cricket team in the history of the sports.
Visiting them for a cricket match and probably some kebabs are Delhi Capitals. Still reeling from the absence of their talismanic leader, Rishabh Pant, David Warner will want to keep KL Rahul’s boys at bay - a franchise that has one of the most complete squads on paper.
Things to watch out for
Openers with different ideologies
Prithvi Shaw and Rahul are two completely different openers. You have someone who doesn’t mind going gung-ho from the word go and then there is Rahul, who believes strike rates are overrated. This might sound a bit extreme but Lucknow would benefit more if Rahul doesn’t go around chasing the Orange Cap.
The right-hander from Karnataka has averaged above 50 in every season since 2018 and amassed over 600 runs in each edition except 2019, in which he missed out by just seven runs. Rahul operated at a strike rate of 157.6 in the powerplay in 2018 but that number has dropped to 116.5 in the last four years. In fact, Rahul (103.6) had the worst strike rate amongst batters who scored at least 150 runs in the powerplay last season.
If Rahul is all about scoring runs, Shaw is a walking intent machine. Since IPL 2021, Shaw has scored 570 runs in the powerplay at an average of 43.85 and a strike rate of 162.9. His average alone is elite — only four others on the list have averaged over 40, and only Buttler and Rahul have bettered his 43.85.
What makes Shaw far and away the most destructive, impactful batter in the powerplay, though, is the fact that he’s managed to couple this with a strike rate of 162.9, when the second-highest SR in the list is 129.1. This is going to be a crucial season for Shaw who could break into the T20I set-up if he manages to have a 450-plus season, and his presence will also make Warner’s life easier at the top.
Where will Axar bat?
What Axar Patel did with the bat last season was simply magnificent. The left-hander slammed 182 runs at an average of 45.5 and a strike rate of 151.7, constantly playing those rapid cameos at the end. Even if you look at his numbers since the last IPL, Axar has been striking at 165.3 in the shortest format of the game. His game against spin has been top-notch.
He is the only Indian left-handed batter in the squad now and you could expect Delhi to float him between number four to six. In his whole T20 career, nearly 80% of his knocks are at six or lower but the management would now want him to take more responsibility in the batting department. If Axar the batter fires, Delhi could keep Rovman Powell for the death overs.
Who bowls at death for LSG?
One another area where Lucknow struggled big time last season was their death bowling. LSG had the worst economy rate (11.1) and balls/boundary (4) in the last five overs, with Mohsin Khan (8.6) being the only bowler with an economy of less than 10.5. What makes things worse for Lucknow is that Mohsin is still not match-ready and his absence would surely be felt.
The Super Giants got Daniel Sams and Romario Shepherd in the auction but they can’t be trusted to bowl those crucial overs. However, their other addition, Naveen-ul-Haq could make a difference, with his variations. The Afghanistan seamer has taken almost half of his total T20 wickets since 2022 at the death.
Naveen is still unproven at the IPL level, while Mark Wood has never been an established name when it comes to death bowling. Hence, Avesh Khan’s form becomes extremely crucial for LSG. Playing for Delhi Capitals in IPL 2021, the right-armer took 12 wickets at an economy of 8.7 and a strike rate of 13.5 in the death overs. However, he only managed five wickets in that phase in IPL 2022 and also leaked runs at an economy of 10.9.
Pitch and conditions
The Ekana Cricket Stadium has hosted 16 T20s since 2022 and the batters here have struggled to get going. They have operated at an average of 21 and a scoring rate of just 6.7, while a wicket has fallen every 18.9 deliveries.
There have been two T20Is played here in the aforementioned time frame, with spinners doing most of the damage. The fast bowlers here have an average of 34 and an economy rate of 8.1, while the corresponding numbers for spinners are 28.5 and 5.4 respectively.
India recently played a T20I against New Zealand in January and only 200 runs were scored across 39.5 overs. The Black Caps could only manage 99/8 in their 20 overs and it took India 119 deliveries to get past that total. In fact, 30 of those total overs were bowled by spinners.
Lucknow could easily keep Mitchell Marsh and Rovman Powell quiet using spin. In T20s since 2022, Marsh has a strike rate of 146 against pace but operates at just 118.42 against spin. The same goes for Powell (166.8 v 120.98) as well.
In Nicholas Pooran and Deepak Hooda, Lucknow have a couple of solid batters of spin bowling. The combination of Hooda (average 48.5 and strike rate 139.57 vs spin in IPL 2022) and Pooran could do wonders for the franchise, especially with one being a right-hander and the other being a left-hander. Meanwhile, Pooran averages 31.06 and strikes at 149.47 in the middle overs.
LSG could easily swap Quinton de Kock (national duty) with Kyle Mayers, but playing Manan Vohra will help them more, especially if they bat first. Once Vohra has done his job as a batter, Lucknow could use Naveen as an impact player and have him alongside Wood.
Lucknow Super Giants (predicted XI) - KL Rahul (c & wk), Manan Vohra/Kyle Mayers, Deepak Hooda, Nicholas Pooran, Ayush Badoni, Marcus Stoinis, Krunal Pandya, Mark Wood, Jaydev Unadkat/Yash Thakur, Ravi Bishnoi, Avesh Khan.
Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi are yet to join the Delhi set-up, meaning Mustafizur Rahman becomes a certain starter. The left-arm seamer could prove to be handy on that slow Lucknow surface. Delhi also have in-form Rilee Rossouw in their set-up but will have to leave out one of Marsh or Powell to fit him in.
Delhi Capitals (predicted XI) - David Warner (c), Prithvi Shaw, Mitchell Marsh, Yash Dhull/Manish Pandey, Sarfaraz Khan (wk), Rovman Powell, Axar Patel, Lalit Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Mustafizur Rahman, Khaleel Ahmed.