Both Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals have given the Pepsi Indian Premier League 2013 an added edge with performances few thought them capable of.
In the process, Punjab have given themselves an outside shot of making the playoffs, while Rajasthan are almost there. That means the clash between the two sides at Punjab Cricket Association stadium in Mohali on Thursday (May 9) might have a strong bearing on the overall standings.
With four home games remaining for them, Punjab's flagging campaign received a fillip courtesy David Miller, who singlehandedly destroyed Royal Challengers Bangalore with an unbeaten 38-ball 101 to take the side home in a high-scoring game earlier this week. Miller's heist, which brought up Punjab's fifth win in 11 matches, also meant that teams above them can't afford to put a foot wrong as Punjab are waiting for any chance that comes their way.
One of their biggest concerns till not long ago was the inability to finish off matches. Having endured two narrow away losses, by four runs to Mumbai Indians and by 15 runs to Chennai Super Kings, a third one would have certainly deflated them. Instead, they now find themselves confident of chasing down tall totals, at least as long as Miller is around.
The confidence from that win has also given each member of the side a new vigour that was visible as they trained at Sector 16 Stadium in Chandigarh on Wednesday. The focus of the team management, particularly Adam Gilchrist and Darren Lehmann, the designated captain and coach, was on the young Indian batsmen, who all had long stints at the nets. With Shaun Marsh and David Hussey also looking in reasonably good touch, the batting looks in good shape.
The area of concern has been the bowling. Manpreet Gony, who is yet to get his act together despite picking up wickets sporadically, has undone the good work done at the start by Praveen Kumar and Parvinder Awana. Piyush Chawla has looked steady but not threatening. And Azhar Mahmood is likely to return in place of Michael Neser, the Queensland pacer, who went for 62 runs in his four overs in the previous game, his first in IPL VI.
If Punjab have a few niggles to sort out, the Rajasthan juggernaut marches on with all bases well covered. Rahul Dravid has discovered a brand new version of himself, giving the team the impetus upfront with Ajinkya Rahane, who has also looked in sublime form. Rahane, with two consecutive fifties, has looked a lot more assured than earlier in the tournament and with Shane Watson and Stuart Binny adding some muscle to the middle order, Rajasthan are capable of chasing down big totals. What the team management would also be particularly pleased about is the temperament shown by young Sanju Samson in the middle.
With Watson bowling his overs again, the dependence on Siddharth Trivedi and James Faulkner, who've been their go-to bowlers, has come down somewhat. Pravin Tambe, the 41-year old legspinner, who performed reasonably well on debut, is likely to keep his place, which means Ajit Chandila could miss out for another game. There could also be a swap between Shaun Tait and Kevon Cooper after Tait looked completely off the boil and conceded 39 off his three overs against Delhi Daredevils.
Both sides would be high on confidence following resounding wins in their previous games, and Punjab would be eager to reverse the tide against Rajasthan, who beat them by six wickets when the two sides last met in Jaipur on April 14.
Kings XI Punjab: David Hussey (capt), Adam Gilchrist, Azhar Mahmood, David Miller, Dimitri Mascarenhas, Luke Pomersbach, Michael Mason, Bhargav Bhatt, Bipul Sharma, Gurkeerat Mann Singh (wk), Harmeet Singh Bansal, Mandeep Singh, Manpreet Gony, Nitin Saini, Parvinder Awana, Paul Valthaty, Piyush Chawla, Praveen Kumar, Manan Vohra, Aniket Choudhary, R Sathish, Sandeep Sharma, Shaun Marsh, Siddharth Chitnis, Sunny Singh.
Rajasthan Royals: Rahul Dravid (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Shane Watson, Sanju Samson, Brad Hodge, Stuart Binny, James Faulkner, Ajit Chandila, Sachin Baby, Owais Shah, Rahul Shukla, Kevon Cooper, Siddharth Trivedi, Dishant Yagnik (wk), S Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan, Kumar Boresa, Fidel Edwards, Samuel Badree, Shreevats Goswami, Harmeet Singh, Brad Hogg, Vikramjeet Malik, Ashok Menaria, Kushal Perera, Amit Singh, Shaun Tait, Pravin Tambe.