Gujarat Lions and Royal Challengers Bangalore finished first and second on the points table at the end of the league phase last year. A third of the way into the Indian Premier League 2017, and both teams are the stragglers, still searching for their best combination. They have a solitary win each so far, and are propping up the bottom of the table with heavily negative net run-rates.
On paper, Bangalore look the stronger side if only because they seem better balanced, but balance on paper counts for zilch when execution on the field goes awry. Bangalore therefore have plenty to ponder heading into the Tuesday (April 18) clash at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Rajkot. They haven’t settled in on what their opening pair should be, with five different combinations in five matches. The waning batting of both Chris Gayle and Shane Watson – each an IPL colossus but both near the sunset now – has given Bangalore a massive combination headache. One option could be to bring in Travis Head as the fourth overseas option behind AB de Villiers, Samuel Badree and Adam Milne/Billy Stanlake. That will mean more responsibility for the trio of Virat Kohli, Kedar Jadhav and de Villiers. On the positive side, Kohli and de Villiers feasted royally on the Gujarat attack in IPL 2016 with a combined 437 runs in six innings, including three centuries and an incredible 229-run stand that shattered all manners of records. So this could be the ideal game in which Bangalore rediscover their vaunted batting mojo.
Gujarat began the tournament with the somewhat strange tactic of packing the XI with top-heavy batsmen and no room for bowlers, but by more error than trial, they’ve finally realised that it pays to have the likes of an Andrew Tye taking up one overseas spot. The return of Ravindra Jadeja too has lent the attack a more well-rounded look, but with all of their overseas heavy hitters – Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith, Jason Roy and Aaron Finch – being openers, they still have to settle on an ideal batting order.
Finch missed the match against Mumbai for the most novel of reasons – his kit-bag hadn’t arrived in Mumbai – but with the team back on home ground in Rajkot, at least that shouldn’t be a problem.
Both teams will be under immense pressure to win this match because for each one, a loss here will mean their chances of making it to the final four recede drastically.
Played 3. Bangalore 2, Gujarat 1.
Head-to-head record at the SCA Stadium, Rajkot
Played 1. Gujarat 1, Bangalore 0.