Preview: Kochi vs Rajasthan, Match 28

April 24, 2011

The Rajasthan Royals might get an odd feeling of deja-vu when they take the field against the Kochi Tuskers. In their first year (also the first year of the IPL), Rajasthan were a team on the bottom of everybody’s list of potential IPL winners. Then they started winning matches and did not stop till they won the trophy. If such parallels make sense, Kochi has resembled the part of this year’s Rajasthan most spectacularly. Their team after the auctions drew plenty of raised eyebrows, and yet after starting off with two close losses they have strung together three wins in a row. It is upto Shane Warne to pull one more of the endless supply of rabbits he seems to keep in his hat, and halt their run, while simultaneously putting his team back on track.

Rajasthan Royals:

Rajasthan have lost their way a little after a promising start in IPL-4. They beat Deccan Chargers and Delhi Daredevils handily, but twin reverses in back-to-back games against the new-look Kolkata Knight Riders seem to have derailed them. Curiously enough, their run of defeats started after Shane Watson had joined the team – when in fact the exact opposite was expected. Watson is amongst the foremost international players and given his big-hitting ability, his all-round skills and his current form, he is an asset to any side. However, so far he hasn’t quite hit his straps in IPL-4 yet, and Rajasthan desperately need him to. Along with Watson, Rajasthan’s other big hitter Ross Taylor also hasn’t fired. Perhaps it’s time Warne gave up the unconventional and went with what seems to be the most obvious choice: you best batsmen must have the best opportunity of facing the most number of balls. This means Watson and Taylor have to be in the top 3 in the batting line-up and not languishing in the middle order. It is slightly baffling why Warne continues to hold his best men back, but then he is Shane Warne – a genius – and he must be having a rationale. Whatever that is though, given that Rajasthan haven’t won – it may be time to try out something else.

On the bowling front, Rajasthan also have a few worries. In the two matches they won, Warne had combined bowling figures of 8-0-38-4. It was as if he had never quit cricket, with the old fizz, bounce, turn and guile all combining to befuddle batsmen once again. However, in the three matches they have lost, Warne has picked up only 2 wickets and against the Kings XI Punjab, he got caned for 50 runs in his four overs. Clearly, Rajasthan’s fortunes hinge significantly on Warne the bowler as much as Warne the leader and both have to recapture their glory days to effect a turn-around in fortunes.

Kochi Tuskers Kerala:

After two matches and two losses, a lot of people would have had ‘I told you so’ looks on their faces about the Kochi Tuskers. The Tuskers have done an admirable job in first wiping off those condescending looks, and then turning them into admiration-based ones. Their opening combination of Brendon McCullum and Mahela Jayawardene has clicked superbly and Brad Hodge has been pretty useful too. Their ace has been Ravindra Jadeja, who has not had a bad game so far. Jadeja was possibly among the most ridiculed and disliked cricketers, especially on fan forums, and to come back from that and put in the kind of performances he has takes a hell of a lot of mental fortitude and resolve – not to mention talent and skill. And Jadeja has shown admirable bundles of all of these to not only shrug off criticism but play a key role in taking his team towards the top of the points table.

Kochi’s bowling is manned by Vinay Kumar and RP Singh at the start, and the team balance has at times prevented even Muttiah Muralitharan from finding a place in the starting eleven, with the all-round skills of Thissara Perera preferred. Kochi might well be tempted to bring back Murali into the eleven for this match. If he does play, it will also give cricket lovers a chance to see Warne and Murali face-off again. Kochi’s bowling has relied more on team-work with all the bowlers chipping in, rather than on the strike-power of one single bowler. That is reflected in the fact that while Kochi have used 9 bowlers across the tournament so far, none of them have picked up more than 5 wickets and yet each one has taken at least 1 wicket.

Final Word:

Kochi might go in to the match as favourites, but they would do well to look at the Delhi Daredevils vs Kings XI Punjab match yesterday. That match had also pitted a team with three wins under its belt against a team that hadn’t won much, but Delhi trumped Punjab in a run-fest. Bottom Line: there are no real favourites in Twenty20 cricket.

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