Rajasthan Royals are jubilant to be at The Garden of Eden for the “virtual quarter-final” of the Indian Premier League Season 11. The winner gets the ticket for the second eliminator – or the virtual semi-final – against SunRisers Hyderabad. The losers fly home.
The ‘comeback kings’ are delighted with their top-four position for the season. Rajasthan Royals on their return to the IPL fold from a two-year suspension have also returned from the brink of an elimination to reach the knockout stage, winning four of their last five league games.
The Ajinkya Rahane-led team has shared its delight in the form of the following preview report for their all-important match with hosts Kolkata Knight Riders.
RAJASTHAN’S ROYAL STATEMENT
Wow – can you believe we are here?! We are truly the comeback kings after looking dead and buried a couple of weeks ago. And we defied expectations by triumphing in our last must win match without our player of the tournament Jos. The Rajasthan Royals are carrying plenty of momentum after surviving ‘Sweaty Sunday’ and making the precious final play off place – but Kolkata Knight Riders are playing in the eliminator play-off for the third consecutive season, so they know exactly what to expect…
KKR won three matches in a row to finish third in the IPL 2018 table and book their place in the play-offs so their confidence will be sky high – plus they have home advantage. Kolkata Knight Riders have also won their two matches against Rajasthan Royals this season, including a comprehensive six-wicket win – with two overs to spare – when they last met at Eden Gardens, so it could be argued that the odds are against us – but that’s just the way we like it!
It doesn’t help though that we will be without free-scoring ‘Boom Boom’ Buttler and all-rounder ‘Big Ben’ Stokes after both were called up to play for England in the test match against Pakistan. In Jos’s absence, the return to form of Rahul Tripathi – who hit 80 from 58 balls against Royal Challengers Bangalore – has been perfectly timed. Buttler has been Rajasthan Royals’ top scorer in their six previous matches during his sensational run of form. The big-hitting Englishman has not been the only star with the bat, however – Sanju Samson has 391 from 14 matches, including two half-centuries, and Ajinkya Rahane has scored 324 from his 13 innings. If a couple of those can come off in this match we might be in with a great chance of defying the pundits and going all the way.
With the ball for the Royals, Jofra Archer has 13 wickets in nine matches, while Jaydev Unadkat has taken 11 and Shreyas Gopal is also in double figures. Krishnappa Gowtham needs one more to join them, having taken nine so far. It was Gopal who impressed last time out, however, earning the man-of-the-match award as he claimed a superb 4 for 16 in Rajasthan’s 30-run defeat of Royal Challengers Bangalore.
We mustn’t forget that we won four of our final five matches to grab the final play-off spot, with Jos Buttler in inspired batting form as he hit five consecutive half-centuries and, in fact, scored two unbeaten 90s in that stunning run. It helped the Royals overturn a run of just one win in six matches, which had threatened to leave them well short in their comeback season.
After a crushing nine-wicket loss to Sunrisers Hyderabad in their first game – after posting just 125/9 – Rajasthan hit back by beating Delhi Daredevils in a rain-affected second match and then had Sanju Samson’s 45-ball 92 and Shreyas Gopal’s economical bowling to thank as they scored 217/4 in a 19-run win against Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Kolkata won the first meeting of these two teams next up, however, chasing 161 to win with seven balls to spare, before Shane Watson scored a century to help Chennai Super Kings beat Rajasthan by 64 runs in the following game. Jofra Archer’s three wickets and another Sanju Samson 50 helped them bounce back with a three-wicket win against Mumbai Indians but three consecutive defeats – against Sunrisers Hyderabad, Delhi Daredevils and Kings XI Punjab – all followed.
Jos Buttler found form at the perfect time, however, and Jofra Archer was in the wickets, as Rajasthan hit back. They beat Kings XI Punjab by 15 runs, chased 177 to beat Chennai Super Kings with a ball to spare next up, and then defeated Mumbai Indians with two overs remaining – chasing 169; Buttler hit 94 from 53 balls, for his second consecutive unbeaten 90.
Rather worryingly it was Kolkata who ended our revival with a six-wicket win after bowling us out for 142, but we booked our play-off place as Rahul Tripathi’s batting and Shreyas Gopal’s bowling saw us to that memorable 30-run win against Royal Challengers Bangalore.
So who lies between us and further progress? The two men who starred with the bat when Kolkata beat Rajasthan in their last meeting at Eden Gardens are expected to be the batting stars again this time out. Chris Lynn hit 45 at the top of the order and has 425 runs – including three half-centuries – in the competition so far this year. Dinesh Karthik is their top scorer, however – his unbeaten 41 in that match contributing to his 438 runs so far. He has finished unbeaten in four of his last six innings, failing just once with a run of scores as follows: 45*, 36*, five, 50, 41* and 26*. His half-century was actually his only one so far in this competition, but he averages 54.75 thanks to his quick-fire, unbeaten contributions at the end of innings.
Also impressing of late has been Sunil Narine, who smashed 75 from 36 balls as Kolkata posted 245 for 6 in their thrashing of Kings XI Punjab, while fellow West Indian Andre Russell has impressed with bat and ball too. He has 13 wickets – three less than Narine, and one less than Kuldeep Yadav who claimed 4 for 20 the last time these two teams met – and 264 runs. In the final game of the group stage, meanwhile, it was rookie Prasidh Krishna who excelled – he claimed 4 for 30 to take him to nine wickets in his last four matches.
Kolkata Knight Riders finished the league stage with five wins in seven matches to book their play-off place – their only defeats coming against a Mumbai Indians side who have traditionally had the better of them in this tournament. They had won just three of their first seven matches, despite starting the tournament with a four-wicket win against Royal Challengers Bangalore.
That was followed by back-to-back defeats against Chennai Super Kings – when they failed to defend 202 for 6 in a five-wicket loss – and Sunrisers Hyderabad, after posting just 138 for 8 from their 20 overs. After blitzing 200 in a 71-run win against Delhi next up, however, they then chased 160 for 8 to beat Rajasthan Royals by seven wickets in their next game.
A Chris Gayle-inspired Kings XI Punjab on a rain-affected match at Eden Gardens to end their min-revival, and Delhi Daredevils gained revenge by posting 219 for 4 in a 55-run win, but Kolkata turned the corner after that game.
Chris Lynn helped them chase 176 to win against Royal Challengers Bangalore, before a stunning six-wicket win – with 14 balls to spare – against Chennai as they chased down 178. Back-to-back losses against Mumbai Indians continued Kolkata’s hoodoo in that fixture, and included a 102-run crushing defeat at Eden Gardens, but the Knight Riders responded well.
A stunning 245 for 6, anchored by Sunil Narine’s 36-ball 75, helped them beat Kings XI Punjab by 31 runs, before they chased 143 to win their most recent meeting with us – Kuldeep Yadav claiming four wickets in an impressive bowling display. They then confirmed their play-off place by chasing 173 to win with two balls to spare against Sunrisers Hyderabad – Prasidh Krishna took 4 for 30 and Chris Lynn hit a 43-ball 55.
As previously mentioned, Kolkata Knight Riders have already beaten us twice this season, and while we have been in superb form to charge to the final play-off place we will sorely miss the man whose superb batting got them there. Jos Buttler’s absence is a big blow – as is Ben Stokes’, despite him not being on top form. We go into this match underdogs – but who cares? We are there, that’s all that matters, and we still have a chance of glory!
RAJASTHAN’S ROYAL STRATEGY
Rajasthan Royals must play their play-off match against Kolkata Knight Riders without the man who fired them into a top-four place after Jos Buttler’s stunning form earned him an England recall. Already without Ben Stokes, as expected, because of England’s test match against Pakistan, the Royals did manage to beat Royal Challengers Bangalore without their English duo in the final group game, so it ain’t all bad!
Jofra Archer opened the batting as an experiment, which didn’t work, while Heinrich Klaasen, Ish Sodhi and Ben Laughlin occupied the other overseas slots. D’Arcy Short is another option, but his inconsistent batting – his two scores of 44 being his only two scores of more than 11 in seven innings so far – looks to have cost him his place. Whether Archer opens again remains to be seen, after he failed to score from four balls in the match against Royal Challengers and missed out on a couple of four balls. More likely is that captain Ajinkya Rahane will open with Rahul Tripathi, who returned to form in perfect time with 80 not out against Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Javon Searles has replaced Tom Curran for the last three matches, and with Kolkata winning all three games they may opt to stick with the same XI. Piyush Chawla missed the win against Rajasthan when the two teams last met, but returned for the final game of the group stage.
Kolkata Knight Riders have been flexible with their batting order, but the top six remains fairly consistent – Sunil Narine and Chris Lynn will open the batting, with Robin Uthappa, Nitish Rana, Dinesh Khartik and Andre Russell taking up the next four slots in any order.
Shivam Mavi played the last game against Rajasthan, but having been either expensive or wicketless in the majority of his games in this year’s competition – he has conceded 84 across the two matches against the Royals combined – he is unlikely to be selected.
The Royals have won four of their last five games. They are on a high with their successive wins. KKR after winning three games on the trot have lost their last two.