Rajasthan Royals may be assured of a playoff berth in the Pepsi Indian Premier League 2013, but a lot more than an upcoming game of cricket will have played on their minds when they clash against Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium on Friday.
The alleged involvement of three of their players - S Sreesanth, Ajt Chandila and Ankeet Chavan - in spot-fixing, and their subsequent suspension from the IPL has "devastated" the team in the words of Rahul Dravid, the captain, and they will have to find a way of motivating themselves quickly.
Rajasthan are also coming off a 14-run loss to Mumbai Indians on Wednesday which pushed them to the third spot in the points table. That makes this match all the more vital for them to finish in the top two. Apart from their off-field troubles, Rajasthan won't have it easy on the field too. They are up against a side who have won five of six home games so far, while Rajasthan have won only two out of seven away matches.
The schedule hasn't been forgiving, with the team flying out of Mumbai on Thursday morning. That means they will be heading into the game directly on the back of their previous outing. However, Dravid held out hope that the spot-fixing controversy could bring the rest of the team together.
On the face of it, Rajasthan's batting unit has performed exceptionally throughout the season. That they ran Mumbai close even though the top-order failed indicated their depth and potential. Chandila's suspension means Pravin Tambe is almost sure to retain his place, while James Faulker, who has 21 wickets from 13 games, is expected to lead the attack with Kevon Cooper (17 wickets in 11 matches) and Shane Watson.
Hyderabad themselves are also coming off a defeat against Mumbai, a seven-wicket loss that came on the back of a late heist by Kieron Pollard. They are one of the teams still in the fray for the lone remaining qualifying spot, and have had ample rest after the Mumbai match for players to recover from minor niggles, if any.
What works in Hyderabad's favour, apart from the rest factor, is that they can control their own fate with two home matches remaining. Hyderabad, who are currently placed fifth with 16 points, are assured of qualification if they win both matches without the net run-rate coming into the equation, and that is exactly what Tom Moody, the coach, stressed on.
"We can look at various calculations but we are not interested in any other thing," he stated. "I am interested in us focusing on our next game against Rajasthan Royals, interested in executing our skills."
The batting unit has shown improvement as the tournament has progressed. Shikhar Dhawan, despite missing seven matches, is the second highest run-getter for the team this year, while Parthiv Patel has added some much needed muscle to the batting. Hanuma Vihari has been steady while Cameron White's destructive abilities, which were on full display against Mumbai, means he is likely to remain captain despite Kumar Sangakkara's availability.
Despite boasting an attack of Dale Steyn, Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra, Thisara Perera and Darren Sammy, the team's inability to defend 178 against Mumbai could come as a bit of disappointment. But Moody firmly backed his bowlers and put down the loss to Mumbai as a one-off. "We got too many positives to draw from with our experiences to get caught up in one game. We hopefully will learn from that experience and react in the right way when under pressure the next time," he said.
Rajasthan emerged comfortable winners by eight wickets the last time the two sides met, but it will take a lot out of them both in terms of skills and emotions to repeat a performance of that magnitude against a side hungry to cement their place in the playoffs.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: Cameron White (capt), Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Akshath Reddy, Amit Mishra, Anand Rajan, Ankit Sharma, Ashish Reddy, Biplab Samantray, Cameron White, Chris Lynn, Dale Steyn, Darren Sammy, D B Ravi Teja, G Hanuma Vihari, Ishant Sharma, Karan Sharma, Nathan McCullum, Parthiv Patel (wk), Prasanth Padmanabhan, Quinton de Kock (wk), Sachin Rana, Shikhar Dhawan, Sudeep Tyagi, T Sargunam, Thisara Perera and Veer Pratap Singh.
Rajasthan Royals: Rahul Dravid (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Shane Watson, Sanju Samson (wk), Brad Hodge, Stuart Binny, James Faulkner, Sachin Baby, Owais Shah, Rahul Shukla, Kevon Cooper, Siddharth Trivedi, Dishant Yagnik (wk), Kumar Boresa, Fidel Edwards, Samuel Badree, Shreevats Goswami (wk), Harmeet Singh, Brad Hogg, Vikramjeet Malik, Ashok Menaria, Kushal Perera, Shaun Tait, Pravin Tambe.