IPL 2021: Rajasthan, Punjab lock horns to break into top four

Ayaz Memon/Mumbai
Filed on September 20, 2021
Rajasthan Royals captain Sanju Samson with coach Kumar Sangakkara. (BCCI)

Currently, both have six points each, though Punjab have played an extra game

Mumbai Indians’ defeat to Chennai Super Kings in the opening match of the second phase has opened up immediate opportunity for Punjab Kings and Rajasthan Royals to break into the top four in the points table.

Currently, both have six points each (MI have 8), though Punjab have played an extra game.

In the first phase played in India, Punjab and Rajasthan showed sketchy form — brilliant on some days, utterly mediocre on others. This inconsistency meant rickety, stop start progress which left them in the middle of the points table rather than in the top four.

In Rajasthan’s case, injuries to key players played a big part in their tepid performances. Pace ace Jofra Archer didn’t turn up for the tournament, having failed to recover from the injury he suffered in India earlier. This was compounded with the loss of star all-rounder Ben Stokes who broke a finger in the very early stages and took no further part.

Rajasthan still had Jos Buttler and Chris Morris — the most expensive IPL player in history — but only the latter lived up to reputation.

Apart from a brilliant century, Buttler failed to show consistency in the first half.

Sanju Samson, made captain for the season, was mercurial with the bat, which meant that Rajasthan’s wins came in staccato, rather than sustained rhythm, and a team that had promised so much attached more question marks that wins against its name.

For the second phase, Buttler too has pulled out as he has just become a father which leaves Rajasthan even further weakened, though the franchise has made a couple of interesting selections in openers Evin Lewis, who was in cracking form in the Caribbean Premier League, and big hitting Liam Livingstone who has grabbed attention in league cricket all over the world.

Punjab were saved from injury issues in the first phase but have suffered from overseas players opting out for the second. Dawid Malan’s absence is a blow to the top order. The franchise moved swiftly to hire South Africa’s Adrian Markram, who has been amongst runs recently, to shore up the batting.

It’s an impressive line-up featuring players like KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Chris Gayle, Nicholas Pooran, Sarfaraz Khan and Markram. But they need consistency as the bulk of the runs came from Rahul and Agarwal’s bats in last year’s editions.

Nevertheless, the batting has ample heft and options for skipper Rahul. In bowling though, particularly the pace department, Punjab have been badly hit with Jhye Richardson, Riley Meredith and Chris Woakes all deciding to skip the remainder of the tournament.

This increases the pressure on Mohammed Shami.

Punjab have made an interesting selection for this phase, signing up seasoned England leg spinner Adil Rashid who has had success in white-ball cricket all over the world.

But all franchises with a plethora of overseas stars will face the challenge of picking the best team as only four foreigners are allowed in the playing XI.

Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator

Tuesday's match

Punjab vs Rajasthan in Dubai

6pm UAE Time

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