Kings XI Punjab v/s Rajasthan Royals

Punjab Cricket Association, Mohali, Punjab

Dil Bole Hussey-Pa!
For the first time this year, the Kings XI Punjab have a 50% win-loss record and currently figure amongst the top 4 contenders for that third/fourth playoff spot. A stop-and-start win against the Royal Challengers was a crucial game for them, and catapulted them from second-last to fourth in the table. In the process, it further dented Vettori’s clueless stars’ hopes and not for the first time- the favourites on paper are facing the humiliating prospect of going down without a fight.
The Royals, led by an astute Dravid, have faltered lately- mainly due to their God Almighty choke against the Daredevils at home. They haven’t recovered after that- falling to a second consecutive loss to Delhi, all the while having the best opening partnership record in the league. If anything, the team looks a bit top-heavy, with players like Owais Shah and Brad Hodge not having enough to do in the last four overs. Something has gone wrong, and even Watson coming in to shore the balance of the side hasn’t helped things immediately- just as he couldn’t prevent them from sinking in 2011. He takes a while to warm up, and by then, the Royals could very well be out of this.
Just two games ago, these teams were in contrasting positions- with Rahane almost single-handedly pulling off a win against Delhi, until Morkel happened to them. Punjab have since won 3 of their last 4 games, and with every game literally a must-win for them, they are now doing what most of the big 4 have failed to do.
This could be Bangalore’s last chance to turn around a flawed campaign with an injured-yet-prolific Gayle and an out-of-sorts Kohli at the helm. 

Over the Wicket
Kings XI Punjab:
Preity Zinta’s ‘boys’ have beaten Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai and Kolkata at Home this season- and that has been the primary reason for their ongoing battle- for they entered the season as clear no-hopers led by an ageing captain on his last legs. But wonder of wonders, as cruel as it may sound, the best thing to have happened to them is Gilchrist pulling his hamstring- and along with him, his blue-eyed boy Valthaty being benched for a while. David Hussey has proven to be a capable leader, and even that choke against Mumbai was not really his fault- with Chawla enduring a Rajma-Chawal moment. Other than that over, the Kings XI have looked like the most competitive team apart from the Daredevils over the last few weeks- and they owe a lot to their new ‘British import’ Azhar Mahmood. Their fortunes have changed drastically after he flew into the team with impressive experience and bowling stats that even transformed Praveen Kumar into an economical bowler. With the battle for the knockout race heating up, and with only Delhi assured a position so far- it will be between Punjab, Kolkata and Mumbai for that second safe spot- who would have thought, with heavily-ornamented teams like Chennai, Bangalore and Rajasthan looking down the barrel- barring a miracle.
A win here for Punjab could not only seal Rajasthan’s fate, but also put them as primary contenders to take over the ‘dark horses’ spot this year. 
Player to watch out for: David Hussey
Clearly the best batsman in the team along with Shaun Marsh, the other Hussey seems to have hit form at the right time- and along with Mahmood, forms the perfect finishing turbo boost to a steadily-improving Punjab team that could still spring the surprise of the campaign. 

Retired all over again
Rajasthan Royals:
They have probably been the worst team out of all on the road over the last few years- and a loss here could end their hopes once again. Dravid’s boys- who were once Shane’s fighters- have consistently started promisingly ever year, throwing up individual surprises along with stellar team efforts, only to fall off the pace as the league wears on. Marathon specialists they are not, despite having the impressive Dravid and Orange-Cap-conqueror Rahane at the top. Shane Watson coming in could change things a bit, but one doubts if the Aussie all-rounder will be upto the task after an exhausting Caribbean tour. He always has that one game in him, though, and Dravid will be hoping that his gamble of dropping his in-form overseas player Cooper will pay off. It is now or never, yet again, with 5 games left in the group stages for them. Playing Shaun Tait could be an option in Mohali, with an all-out attack their only way out now.
Player to watch out for: Shane Watson
Watson will be aching to open the innings with Rahane in order to have some meaningful impact on the game. But Dravid has been so consistent at the top that Watson may have to play out-of-position, and come in at situations that do not demand the best out of him. That is often when he could get lazy, and Dravid needs to figure out a way to utilize him in a better manner. 

Mumbai ka Don Kaun? Ajinkya!
Some teams are the best with their backs pushed to the wall- and one expects the Wall to push them right back up. The Royals could win this one heroically, but their main challenge will be to keep up this momentum going into the last few games- and improving their NRR. Punjab might have to wait a bit more for their moment of glory.

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