The third match of the Indian Premier League (IPL) season 8 will be played between Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals on Friday, April 10 in Pune. Kings XI Punjab were among the most impressive sides of last season, finishing the tournament as runners up to Kolkata Knight Riders. Even in the final that they lost, they came up with a cracking performance. This time, they would like to go all the way. That target is some distance away. For now, they must look to begin on a high. The aim should be the same for Rajasthan Royals, winners of the inaugural edition. Although they haven't reclaimed the title since, their performances have been praiseworthy.
In terms of potential and talent, there is nothing much to pick between the two sides since both Punjab and Rajasthan have players who tasted success in the World Cup, and a number of them who were part of the winning Aussie squad. If Punjab have Mitchell Johnson, Glenn Maxwell and George Bailey, Rajasthan have the one and only Steven Smith, Shane Watson and man of the World Cup final James Faulkner. On a given day, any of these abovementioned players are capable of coming up with match-defining efforts, and both sides would only hope that the talent is translated into performance on the field.
Looking at the Kings batting line up, they have plenty of firepower. Virender Sehwag may be well past his prime now, but if he gets going, he can still destroy attacks. The bigger danger names though for the opposition are definitely Maxwell and David Miller. Last season both formed an incredible pair, and played some stunning knocks. Both have the ability to hit the ball a long way, and if they fire, the duo will undoubtedly put Punjab in a great position. In Bailey, they have a captain who can score runs at a fast pace without taking a lot of risks. He is incredibly quick between the wickets too.
In the bowling department, Punjab will be led by Mitchell Johnson, who will definitely be buoyed by his success in the World Cup. Even under normal circumstances, Johnson is a highly dangerous customer. Akshar Patel will be their chief spin weapon, like last year. Rajasthan, on the other hand, also have quite a few talented names in the batting. Steven Smith tormented the Indians in Australia, and he would be keen to continue the great work in the IPL as well. Ajinkya Rahane has been highly successful at the top of the order for the Royals while skipper Shane Watson poses a threat with his big hitting. Not to forget the talent of Sanju Samson.
While the sides are well matched in batting, Rajasthan have a definite edge when it comes to the bowling. There is more versatility in their attack. Tim Southee and James Faulkner are match winners in the pace department. They will have good support with the likes of Watson, Dhawal Kulkarni, Juan Theron and Stuart Binny around. It is a surprise of sorts that they haven't retained Kevin Cooper, but the presence of Pravin Tambe in the spin department is a definite plus. Looking at all aspects, neither side has a distinct advantage. The best team on the day should win.
--By A Cricket Analyst