DESERT RAIN: A SUNDAY SHOWDOWN

Rajasthan Royals v/s Kolkata Knight Riders

Sawai ManSingh Stadium, Jaipur

Head-to-Head record: Rajasthan 4-4 Kolkata 

In their last game at Eden Gardens a year ago, The Royals had to bear the ignominy of being bowled out for one of the lowest scores in IPL history- 81 runs. Needless to mention, KKR- who were the best team for majority of the league stages last year- chased it down with hardly any fuss. The Royals have lost all their 4 games against the Knight Riders in the last two years, and now- under new leadership and with some relatively new faces- they will be looking to change that trend. They were the hardest team to beat at home till 2010, and Shane Warne had made this stadium into a virtually impenetrable fortress.
 
Nowadays, though, Home and Away rarely seems to make a difference- with both teams making contrasting starts to their 2012 campaign. KKR were outplayed in a rain-curtailed 12 over game against last year’s Wooden Spooners Delhi Daredevils- a match played at Eden Gardens, no less. It was an upset, considering the fact that half of the Daredevils team is yet to arrive, or are injured. Rajasthan, meanwhile, have made a stellar convincing start to their season- as they always do. The one time they were mauled in their first game was way back in the first edition against Delhi- and we all know what happened in 2008. Maybe, it does serve them well to be given a wake-up call in the beginning, but under Dravid- one is not sure if they will want to be playing catch-up at all times. Shane Watson, their most valuable player, will arrive at the end of April.
Somehow, they must hold on until then. And they are already showing signs of doing so.

Navi Mumbai
 
Rajasthan Royals:
Ajinkya Rahane, the man who was sent back from Australia after the Test Series, is a Mumbaikar with a mission. On Friday evening, he played one of the most gloriously graceful T20 innings that one can possibly play, against a team that had some pretty effective T20 specialists in their lineup. 98 superb runs, but then Rahane seemed to be struck with a rather Tendulkar trait of slowing down when approaching that 3-figure mark. Could be a Mumbai thing. This proved to be a timely knock, with Rohit Sharma pushing for a Test Place after Dravid’s retirement- and as of now, Sharma has dug himself a ditch for the umpteenth time in his career. 1 run in 2 games is not an ideal start, and it will be interesting to watch Badrinath, Rahane, Sharma and Dinesh Karthik play for the ONE test place.

The Final Destination
 
The surprise package of the night was the unassuming Trinidadian all-rounder Kevin Cooper- a kid with quite a reputation back home. He could fill half the massive boots of Watson, with Botha having an off-day in the bowling department. Rajasthan look strong, but Dravid might want to look into the possibility of continuing with Botha at number 3- with Menaria looking ill at ease so early on. 
 
Player to watch out for: Johan Botha
One bad day, without an opportunity to bat, could just be enough for the disillusioned T20 leader of South Africa. A terminated contract with the SACB could be playing on his mind already, and he must get his head together and help the Royals team play to their strengths – every player MUST do a bit of everything. That is exactly how the ‘minnows’ win leagues.

Kolkata Knight Riders:
A bit unlucky to start under rainy conditions, apart from losing a crucial toss in a farcical 12 over game, Gambhir must be looking forward to a full game of cricket- so that his star player Kallis doesn’t seem too lost. Morkel may have completely destroyed the KKR batting lineup on Thursday, but one cannot read too much into KKR’s ability to win a T20 game from that match. Their real test begins today- and facing a jubilant Royals team could be their greatest chance to bring out the big guns- Shakib, Yusuf Pathan, Narine, Lee and McCullum. Morgan might get a game sooner or later, and as long as their Jeevan- Shahrukh Khan- stays away from the stadium, KKR will begin as favorites. 

Finders Keepers
 
Declared as favorites along with the Royal Challengers and Mumbai Indians at the start of the tournament, KKR will look to go one better and find that finishing turbo boost this season- because they are yet to reach a final. They are no more the dark horses, though, and their middle order will have to step up if they are to be consistently competent. 
Player to watch out for: Brendon McCullum
The man that gave IPL-2008 the beginning it deserved, an innings that will never be forgotten in T20 history- is back behind the stumps, under a captain that will look to use him effectively. Opening with Kallis could be the tonic he needs to reclaim some lost glory, and he- along with Levi, Gayle, Gilchrist, Ryder, Peiterson and Rahane- are going to be the game changers this season. 

Prediction: Too close to call- but the Knight Riders could marginally pull it off, due to a star-studded batting lineup that are waiting to come good. Rahane can’t be expected to play another gem, and that could leave the Royals batting a bit weak.

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