A top-of-the-table clash between teams as different as chalk is from cheese, with captains at the diametric opposite ends of the temperament spectrum, is the perfect recipe to spice up the weekend.
Virat Kohli's Royal Challengers Bangalore, unbeaten in four games in Pepsi IPL 2013 at M Chinnaswamy Stadium, up against Rahul Dravid's Rajasthan Royals, undefeated at home but versatile enough to travel well, is the mouth-watering prospect that awaits Bangalore's denizens on Saturday (April 20) night. It's too early in the competition for this match to have a decisive say in the qualification process, but bragging rights will very much be at stake, especially with a Bangalore boy at the helm of a Rajasthan side that has consistently punched above its weight this season.
Those who believe there is no place for tactical nous in the Twenty20 game will have been forced to change their opinion after watching Dravid the skipper at work in this edition of the world's most celebrated Twenty20 league. Dravid has always been a proactive captain; even while leading India, he was aggressive and attacking, in contrast to his deliberate style of batsmanship. In retirement from international cricket, his leadership has assumed even more outstanding proportions, his marshalling of the troops directly responsible for Rajasthan playing with a freedom, confidence and flair that hasn't always been their calling card.
Rajasthan have played their conditions at Jaipur brilliantly, be it using an all-pace attack on a surface that offered the quicker bowlers encouragement or opening the bowling with an all-spin combine of Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan against Mumbai Indians in their last game, a match Rajasthan won with such authority that it took one's breath away for the magnificence of the conception of a game plan and the efficiency of its execution and implementation.
Dravid has, astutely, mixed and matched things, taking away the element of predictability and forcing opponents to second-guess what tricks he might unleash on match day. Inasmuch as captains would love to have the world believe that they would rather focus on their own teams than on the opposition, no game plan can be formulated without keeping the opponent of the day in mind. It's in this stakes that Dravid has stolen a clear march over the other captains in the fray.
There is an element of predictability in the manner in which Bangalore approach any game. It's no secret that they are heavily dependent on Chris Gayle, Kohli and AB de Villiers to do the bulk of the scoring - the trio has accounted for 76.72% of all runs scored this season by Bangalore - and understandably, will be the wickets most coveted by the opposition. But as one team after another has discovered at the Chinnaswamy, that is easier said than done.
Bangalore have obviously suffered from lack of runs from their middle order, which is why they will welcome the arrival of Saurabh Tiwary with no little glee. Tiwary has done precious little in his time with the franchise, but there is at least the feeling, even if without too much justification, that he can make a difference. It is debatable if he will straightaway be thrown into the mix after joining the team midway through the competition, but at least going forward, Tiwary and Cheteshwar Pujara will offer greater options for Bangalore to veer away from the over-reliance on the big three.
If there is one weakness in the Gayle game, it is a perceived susceptibility against offspinners early in his innings. R Ashwin has got him out a few times bowling with the new ball and this season, G Hanuma Vihari provided Sunrisers Hyderabad with a pleasant shock when he had Gayle caught behind with the first delivery of the second over. Logically, therefore, Rajasthan should open the bowling again with Chandila, who got rid of Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting in the last match, but Dravid might choose to change that simply because Gayle and Bangalore might be expecting the new ball in Chandila's hand.
Maybe one is over-complicating things, but mini-battles within the bigger war simply can't be wished away. These mini-battles keep the crowds engrossed, and add a certain mystique and intrigue without which it can be just another Twenty20 game.
The Bangalore crowd, decidedly partisan, will face its first big challenge of the season. It is inevitable that it will be torn between loyalty to its franchise and appreciation of a true son of the soil, never mind if he is in the rival camp. All told, it should make for an energetic contest as the exciting future of Indian cricket pits its wares against the engaging past.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: Virat Kohli (capt), Mayank Agarwal, KP Appanna, KL Rahul, Arun Karthik (wk), Sheldon Jackson, Murali Kartik, Zaheer Khan, Abhimanyu Mithun, Abhinav Mukund, Karun Nair, Pankaj Singh, Prashanth Parameswaran, Harshal Patel, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sandeep Warrier, RP Singh, Sunny Sohal, J Syed Mohammad, Saurabh Tiwary, Jaidev Unadkat, Saurabh Tiwary, Vinay Kumar, Vijay Zol, Christopher Barnwell, Daniel Christian, AB de Villiers, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Chris Gayle, Moises Henriques, Andrew McDonald, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ravi Rampaul, Daniel Vettori.
Rajasthan Royals: Rahul Dravid (capt), Samuel Badree, Stuart Binny, Kumar Boresa, Ajit Chandila, Ankeet Chavan, Kevon Cooper, Fidel Edwards, James Faulkner, Shreevats Goswami, Harmeet Singh, Brad Hodge, Brad Hogg, Vikramjeet Malik, Ashok Menaria, Kushal Perera, Ajinkya Rahane, Sachin Baby, Sanju Samson, Owais Shah, Rahul Shukla, Amit Singh, S Sreesanth, Shaun Tait, Pravin Tambe, Siddharth Trivedi, Shane Watson, Dishant Yagnik (wk).
Story first published on: Saturday, 20 April 2013 01:16 IST