Cricket's great levelling powers were brought home starkly to Royal Challengers Bangalore after their matches against Pune Warriors India and Mumbai Indians in the space of four days. Comprehensive winners against Pune, Bangalore were brought thudding to earth following a humbling loss against Mumbai on Saturday (April 27).
The loss against Mumbai meant that though Bangalore have won six of nine matches in the Pepsi Indian Premier League 2013, they've failed to win away from home. And when they come up against Rajasthan Royals on Monday, they will be playing at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur, a venue Rajasthan have made their own fortress over the years.
Rajasthan cemented their strength at home with an eight-wicket win over Sunrisers Hyderabad, narrowly missing the unique feat of having a five-wicket haul and a century in the same match, when Shane Watson finished on 98 not out after James Faulkner had taken 5 for 20.
It is tempting to pit this match as a battle between Chris Gayle and Watson - two of the most valuable Twenty20 players in the game today, and the only centurions this season. But both sides have several players who form an admirable support cast around the two stars.
Bangalore's capitulation against Mumbai notwithstanding, they remain a very dangerous outfit with Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers backing up Gayle in batting. Ravi Rampaul and Vinay Kumar were both taken for runs against Mumbai, but both have had very good results otherwise. After the Mumbai game, Kohli had hinted that there could be changes in the line-up, and one of the men whose place will be under scrutiny is Tillakaratne Dilshan. Dilshan has scored only 76 runs in five innings off 93 deliveries - not the returns to justify an extended run when there are replacements available.
Rajasthan have the admirable Faulkner, who has bowled well throughout the tournament and currently has the Purple Cap. Brad Hodge has been a solid presence in the middle order, even though he hasn't yet got the space to play a defining innings. Like Bangalore, Rajasthan will focus on the fourth overseas player spot after Kevon Cooper's poor outing against Hyderabad. They have the option of choosing between the legspin of Samuel Badree and the left-arm Chinaman of Brad Hogg if they drop Cooper, or even going with Shaun Tait's express pace, a tactic they tried when Rajasthan faced Bangalore earlier in the tournament. Tait was brought in then to counter Gayle, but didn't find much success.
The pitch at Jaipur has been notable for assisting seamers, though as Watson showed, it's hardly one on which runs can't be scored freely. Both sides have several seam bowling options to choose from, and if Rajasthan can boast a slightly better rounded bowling attack, Bangalore have the better batting line-up on paper.
So far, both teams have had more success than failure in the season, but as tends to happen in the IPL, the points table is fairly congested around the middle. That makes every match and winning margin crucial, and one of Bangalore or Rajasthan will have taken an important step towards securing a place in the final four with victory in this match.
Rajasthan Royals: Rahul Dravid (capt), Samuel Badree, Stuart Binny, Kumar Boresa, Ajit Chandila, Ankeet Chavan, Kevon Cooper, Fidel Edwards, James Faulkner, Shreevats Goswami (wk), Harmeet Singh, Brad Hodge, Brad Hogg, Vikramjeet Malik, Ashok Menaria, Kushal Perera, Ajinkya Rahane, Sachin Baby, Sanju Samson (wk), Owais Shah, Rahul Shukla, Amit Singh, S Sreesanth, Shaun Tait, Pravin Tambe, Siddharth Trivedi, Shane Watson, Dishant Yagnik (wk).
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, Sandeep Warrier, RP Singh, Sunny Sohal, J Syed Mohammad, Saurabh Tiwary, Jaidev Unadkat, 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.