Pune Warriors have had a dismal run in the Pepsi Indian Premier League 2013. Languishing at the bottom of the points table with just two wins from seven matches, Pune face a stiff challenge when they take on Royal Challengers Bangalore at the M Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore on Tuesday.
Coming on the back of a disappointing seven-wicket loss against Kings XI Punjab at Mohali, it will be interesting to see if Pune can bring a halt to Bangalore's winning streak at home, where they have won five games so far. Pune - ever since their inception in 2011 - haven't managed to beat Bangalore even once.
Though Bangalore's overseas contingent might boast of megastars, Pune's foreign recruits are multi-faceted, providing the team with plenty of options. There has been a constant change in captaincy in this edition - Aaron Finch was the third player to lead Pune, in the match against Punjab, after Angelo Mathews, the original captain, and Ross Taylor sat out.
Pune's think-tank will have to devise a strategy to counter the threat that Bangalore pose in the form of Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. Considering the Pune bowling has been rendered toothless on several occasions, the task seems a formidable one.
Bangalore have made optimal use of the conditions at home with their pace battery, comprising Vinay Kumar, RP Singh, Jaidev Unadkat and Ravi Rampaul, coming to the fore. Both Vinay and Unadkat, by striking at regular intervals, operated intelligently to peg Rajasthan Royals back in their previous game, with a late burst by RP Singh ensuring Bangalore's chase was limited to a manageable 118.
While the team may be a cohesive unit, Bangalore certainly need more from their middle order. Saurabh Tiwary, making a comeback from injury, showed some promise against Rajasthan. After failing to justify his inclusion in the previous two editions, Tiwary's 53-run fourth wicket stand with Gayle saw the team home.
With just four points and battling a negative net run rate, Pune need their batting and bowling units to fire in tandem if they want to make it to the play-offs. At 101 for four, chasing 120 to win at about a run-a-ball, it was the middle order that let them down against Sunrisers Hyderabad. Hit hard by the shock loss, Pune's batsmen finally came strong against Punjab to post a daunting 185, but the bowlers leaked runs and failed in their defence.
Finch and Robin Uthappa, have provided solid starts in their last three games and a lot will be expected from 'home boy' Uthappa. Part of the Karnataka side and a former Bangalore recruit, Uthappa will have to take advantage of the familiar conditions and fire to ensure the middle order doesn't get exposed too early. Failing to defend 15 runs in the last over against Punjab, Wright will have to forget his horror with the ball and take solace from his cameo of 34 off 10 balls. Yuvraj Singh, who has been in and out of the side due to niggles, also looked in sublime touch with the bat against Punjab.
With local talents such as Manish Pandey, Abhishek Nayar and T Suman yet to justify their places in the side, it will be upon Smith, Wright and Yuvraj to lead the charge against Bangalore.
Pune also need to iron out issues with their bowling which has been patchy throughout the tournament. With his effective swing bowling, Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been the leading strike bowler, providing early breakthroughs but hasn't received enough support from the rest of the attack. Ashok Dinda and Rahul Sharma have blown hot and cold. With Parveez Rasool's inexplicable absence from the side, Mendis, who replaced Mitchell Marsh in the last game, along with Yuvraj, will be expected to keep things tight in the middle overs.
If recent form is anything to go by, Bangalore certainly have an upper hand, having won five of their seven games to top the table. But given the unpredictable nature of Twenty20 format, Pune will have to raise their game by a few notches if they fancy beating Bangalore, who are the favourites at home.
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.
Pune Warriors India: Angelo Mathews (capt), Ajantha Mendis, Kane Richardson, Luke Wright, Aaron Finch, Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith, Wayne Parnell, Abhishek Nayar, Ali Murtaza, Anustup Majumdar, Ashoke Dinda, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Dheeraj Jadhav, Eklavya Dwivedi, Harpreet Singh, Ishwar Pandey, Krishnakant Upadhyay, Mahesh Rawat, Manish Pandey, Mithun Manhas, Rahul Sharma, Raiphi Gomez, Robin Uthappa, Shrikant Wagh, T Suman, Udit Birla, Yuvraj Singh.