Punjab Kings v Gujarat Lions
Friday 8 April, 15:00
TV: live on Sky Sports
Fearless Punjab a fascinating propsect
Three games, two wins. Punjab would surely have taken that at the start of the campaign if offered it.
Following the very 2022 trend of batting with reckless abandon, their batting scorecards are full of cameos of 20 or 30-odd, with extremely high strike rates.
Gone are the days of thinking that a couple of slowish fifties will make sure you always post something, or get to chase anything, and welcome to the times when that strike rate is arguably the most important metric of them all.
Just as an example, Liam Livingstone is their only batsman to have got to fifty in three games, the emphasis obviously on impact rather than longevity when it comes to batting.
Time will tell if that approach is going to work more often than not but they certainly seem committed to it.
But if their batting looks strong, their bowling not so much. Rahul Chahar has been excellent with six wickets in three games at an economy rate of five an over, as good as it gets.
But no-one else has more than two wickets and no-one else is going at less than 8.4 an over. No-one that is but the slightly unknown Vaibhav Arora, who made his debut for Punjab and did it in style with 21-2 off four overs.
What a bonus it would be if he keeps up those sorts of performances, and they'll certainly need them.
Jonny Bairstow didn't play last time out and should certainly be available for this one but they may just be tempted to stick with the same four overseas players they used last time out.
It was almost a given he'd come in for PBB Rajapaksa when available, but the Sri Lankan has been pretty good and in typical 2022 Punjab style, has been striking at 230.
Punjab Kings' Likely XI
Dhawan, Agarwal, Rajapaksa, Livingstone, Sharma, Shahruck Khan, Smith, Rabada, Chahar, Aroa, Singh.
The enigma that is Gujarat
Gujarat are cut from a different cloth to Punjab.
Their obvious quality is in their bowling where they boast an almost perfect trio. Rashid Khan is arguably the best spin bowler in the world in this format, Mohammad Shami is the epitome of good line and length bowling with the odd variation while Kiwi Lockie Ferguson is one of the quickest bowlers at the tournament.
But even then they have a few concerns. Varun Aaron and Rahul Tewatia have been expensive, while Hardik Pandya has been decent for a man who has hardly bowled in two years but may be found out sooner or later.
And if their bowling looks dodgy beyond those three, their batting does as well. These aren't wickets for Matthew Wade to prosper on while the less said about Vijay Shankar at number three in T20 cricket, the better.
But the truth is they're two from two. Just a few months after Australia won the World Cup with very little going for them on paper, you wonder if the old-fashioned stats-based analysis and assessment of individual players is as valuable as it used to be.
Alzarri Joseph and R. Gurbaz await their chance for an overseas spot.
Gujarat's Likely XI
Gill, Wade, Shankar, Pandya, Miller, Tewatia, Monahar, Khan, Aaron, Ferguson, Shami.
We're at Brabourne for this one. First innings scores so far read: 177-5, 210-7 and 180-8.
So 185 looks about right as a par score.
The first two were chased, the 180-8 by Punjab was too good for CSK, who got nowhere near that.
So not so easy to work out who's in command post-toss, especially given it's a pitch so rarely used in the IPL.
Both teams to score 170 looks very much on at 13/10. Good wicket and though there might be a concern that Gujarat's batting may not be good enough to get to that mark, it's worth remembering Punjab are leaking runs at the moment so they may not have to do anything special to get there.
Gujarat just about value at pre-toss odds
I've said in an earlier preview that I'm not massively keen on playing the match winner market at this stage. Not only do we have completely new teams (including here) but the 'old' ones are almost unrecognisable to previous seasons anyway.
But for what it's worth, the odds look about right with Punjab 1.84/5 and Gujarat 2.26/5.
If you're desperate to play his market pre-toss, it's worth knowing that it's been a tournament for outsiders so far, meaning that following that rationale, Gujarat offer the better value.
Chahar can go again
No surprise that Rabada is favourite at 5/2 for top Punjab bowler despite only having played one game and not being quite at his best, with 1-28 off just three overs, at an economy rate of 9.33. That's reputations for you.
I much prefer that man Chahar, who is way ahead for wickets taken and going at just five an over, a further sign that he's been menacing, that batsmen aren't reading him and that quite simply, he's bowling extremely well.
He's 3/1 and that will do me just fine.
Assuming he keeps his place in the side rather than making way for Bairstow and I think Rajapaksa makes appeal at 4/1 for Punjab top batsman.
His 43 was good enough for a tie with Dhawan in their first game and in his second, just 31 was needed from him to top score, proof of the theory that 'a quick game is a good game' as far as Punjab are concerned.
He's scoring at an incredible lick and isn't going to change his strategy anytime soon. Sooner or later he'll get to 50 or 60 off half that number of balls so all things considered, that's a very decent price.