Royal Challengers Bangalore v Punjab Kings
Friday 13 May 15:00
TV: live on Sky Sports
Speaking of Kohli...
RCB are very much back on track and you could say they've very much 'done an RCB' this season: start well, go on a bad run and then find a couple of late wins to make the playoffs. Once there, they generally fail to make the final and even when they do (which they have on three occasions), they lose.
So why should this year be different? Some of that was said in jest of course but if you're assuming they will make the Playoffs and are looking for a positive, it would be that with Faf du Plessis in charge rather than Virat Kohli, they have a far better chance.
And speaking of Kohli: he either has an extremely good agent, is worth his place in the team for marketing reasons alone or RCB somehow think he's going to find form.
His golden duck last time out was remarkably his third nought of the campaign and the best thing you could say about it was that it's better than eating up a load of deliveries.
In a perverse way, Glenn Maxwell may be quite pleased his former RCB skipper struggled so much because it's taken the attention away from his own poor form with the bat. But at least 'The Big Show' has taken some important wickets including three in his last two.
Could Kohli and Maxwell maybe swap batting positions? They've tried just about everything else.
Hasaranga was excellent last time out taking five wickets and du Plessis led the way with the bat. Josh Hazlewood carries on making important contributions, too.
Funny old team, are RCB.
RCB's Likely XI
Kohli, du Plessis, Patidar, Maxwell, Karthik, Shabhaz, Lomror, Hasaranga, Patel, Hazlewood, Siraj.
One-dimensional Punjab paying the price
The idea that you can win an IPL title simply by loading your side with power-hitters was well and truly put to bed in the form of the Punjab Kings.
Livingstone, Rajapaksa, Bairstow, Smith, Shahruckh (to name but a few) did indeed hit a fair few sixes. But there will be matches when the wicket doesn't allow you to go for broke every other ball and there will be game situations where it's not needed anyway.
Ironically, it was a loss of belief that sky-high strike rates were the way to go halfway through the tournament that cost them. If that was the game plan, then at least stick with it.
Not that their bowling was much better, a reflection of where their priorities in the Mega Auction lay.
The ever-brilliant Kagiso Rabada aside, and Rahul Chahar to a lesser extent, they were either economical without taking wickets, or took wickets but were expensive.
Assuming Punjab don't find a way of winning three in a row and somehow qualifying for the playoffs, I'm actually quite glad it didn't come off.
Cricket always has been and should always be about having a good balance rather than just having one area of strength and one gameplan. It will be interesting to see if their policy changes for next year.
Punjab's Likely XI
Dhawan, Bairstow, Rajapaksa, Agarwal, Livingstone, Sharma, Dhawan, Rabada, Chahar, Singh, Sharma.
Here's what happened the last few times we were at Brabourne.
Mumbai posted 177 against Gujarat and won by five runs, Delhi posted 207 and beat SRH by 21 runs and RCB posted 170 against Gujarat, which the Titans chased with three balls to spare.
The more worn pitches get (and some are pretty worn by now), the less relevant the early-season stats, so I'm not looking back any further.
Expect around 175 first up. That should make it pretty much a 50/50 game. If that's roughly what the team batting first gets, it's not the worst strategy to then just go with the side who's the outsider at the break.
RCB slight jollies with reason
It's 1.8910/11 on RCB, which is pretty much what you'd expect them to be.
They've been slightly better this season, have two more wins than their opponents on the board (Punjab do admittedly have a game in hand on them) and are on a promising run of two straight victories. They also have the better bowling attack.
But Punjab's batting is more than capable of firing on any given day and I wouldn't necessarily trust RCB to chase 180 if that's what the Kings get to. There are better options elsewhere.
Patidar price stands out like a sore thumb
After what I said above about Kohli, you'd think his odds would have lengthened considerably for this one in the several markets he's involved in.
But no. Remarkably, he's 12/5 for RCB Top Batsman (at his 'regular' price, he's admittedly boosted to 11/4), 4/1 for top match batsman and 7/1 for man-of-the-math. Jolly in all three. Answers on a postcard, please.
The one good thing about Kohli being ridiculously under-priced is that it's lengthened the odds on other players on the RCB top batsman market.
Maxwell looks too short (4/1) on current form, du Plessis about right at 11/4.
But the one I like is Rajat Patidar. He's only played four times this season but got scores of 16, 52, 21 and 48, meaning he's averaging 34 for the season.
The strike rate is very healthy at 135, he's mostly been batting at three this season and in Kohli and Maxwell there are two out-of-form players. If he can get du Plessis beat, he'll have every chance and at 5/1, that's far too big.
Hasaranga can strike again
As a slightly more obvious selection, I also want to keep Hasaranga on my side.
With 21 wickets in 12 matches and a strike rate of 11.7 for the season, he's been one of the big stars with the ball this IPL.
Yes, those figures look considerably better after his freakish 5/18 last time out but then again, everyone's going to have one match where they play beautifully to boost their stats and that was his.
Assuming the theory stands here at Brabourne, that tired pitches play into the hands of spinners as the tournament progresses, that's another reason why he might come good.
Either way, with his numbers slightly better than Josh Hazlewood and considerably better than anyone else's, he should be favourite rather than 11/4 joint-favourite alongside Hazlewood and Harshal Patel. That will do us just fine.