Punjab Kings v Rajasthan Royals
Tuesday, 15:00 BST
Live on Sky Sports Cricket
In the wake of Mumbai's defeat to Chennai on Sunday, Tuesday's fixture takes on extra significance. Had that match gone the other way, the race for the play-offs may have become extremely predictable. Now all is to play for - especially this pair.
Play-off hopes remain for both sides
Based on historic points tables, a minimum of 14 is required to reach the last-four. Sixteen definitely gets it done, and makes an advantageous top-two finish very plausible. Punjab have six points from eight, so a minimum of four wins from their six remaining matches is required. Rajasthan have six from seven, so four from their final seven could get it done.
An uphill task, for sure, but I believe possible in both cases. Punjab were among my fancies - tipped for a top-four finish on Cricket...Only Bettor before the tournament begun - but proved disappointing. However the postponement may work to their advantage and - at least in terms of personnel - there's plenty to suggest an improved second half of the season.
Punjab look stronger now
Before the postponement, they'd lost KL Rahul to appendicitis. A killer blow that we assumed had finished them but he's now back, fresh off some good performances in England. Nicholas Pooran is now in much better form. Dawid Malan, Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith have gone home but none strike me as a great loss.
Instead, this potential XI looks a match for anyone. Fabian Allen might play more now and they've got plenty in reserve in terms of overseas stars Moises Henriques, Adil Rashid and Nathan Ellis, or home bowlers Ravi Bishnoi and Murugan Ashwin.
Possible XI: Rahul, Agarwal, Gayle, Hooda, Pooran, Sharukh, Allen, Jordan, Harpreet, Shami, Arshdeep.
Royals could yet surprise
Ditto Rajasthan. They were decimated before the tournament even begun, losing pivotal English trio Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes. Given that, they performed pretty well to gain six points from seven games. Chetan Sakariya is a star in the making and Chris Morris one of the most improved all-rounders.
Sure, that English trio are irreplaceable, such is their importance to the Royals line-up, but the break has afforded the chance to beef up the squad with new overseas signings. Glenn Phillips and Evin Lewis will improve the batting, while Liam Livingstone is now available. Tabraiz Shamsi adds another spin option.
There will be problems accommodating them all, but try this out.
Possible XI: Lewis, Livingstone, Samson, Miller, Tewatia, Parag, Morris, Sakariya, Unadkat, Gopal, Tyaki.
Stats point to big advantage for defenders
Last year's IPL started on the exact day, using the same grounds. Of the first 30 matches, a surprising 23 went to the team batting first. 14 of those matches came at Dubai, with 12 going to the defending team. That trend landed in Sunday's match.
Runs, however, were harder to come by, with 156 proving easily enough. Save some heroics from Gaikwad and the first innings total may well have been under 140. Last year, 157 was the lowest score at Dubai in the first half of the season. This pitch, though, had plenty of grass and looked tacky. So too today's pitch at Abu Dhabi.
Scoring looks much harder than 2020
Obviously it is early and remains to be seen whether other strips play the same but on that evidence, I'm assuming much lower scores. Par may be around 150.
Sixes aren't easy to come by either. In those 14 matches last year, 12 maximums were hit only five times. That suggests today's line at 11.5 is way too high. I'm backing unders at 8/11 with confidence.
Try bigger prices for top batsman
If low scores are indeed on the cards, taking short prices about the top order in the top batsman market makes dubious sense. On that front, Rahul are boosted to 12/5 for Punjab while Sanju Samson leads the way at 3/1 for Rajasthan.
Try some better priced alternatives. 17/2 about Deepak Hooda for Punjab looks way too big. He was batting at four earlier in the tournament. And for Rajasthan, 19/1 always appeals about Rahul Tewatia. Likewise 40/1 about Chris Morris - who can be very explosive at the death - is worth an interest.
Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty