Royal Challengers Bangalore take on Rajasthan Royals in Pune on Wednesday in the IPL 'eliminator'. The two sides finished third and fourth in the points table, but only one will still be in the competition after what Richard O'Hagan predicts will be an enthralling contest...
"This looks to be a good time to back the Royals. The batting power of the Bangalore lineup will always attract the money, but their popgun bowling, coupled with the fact that they have not played a full game recently, goes against them. Factor in that Rajasthan have key players returning to form just as the likes of Starc seem to be waning and at 2.6213/8 there’s an awful lot of reasons to back them."
Royal Challengers Bangalore v Rajasthan Royals
Wednesday May 20
Live on Sky Sports 2
What is this?
This is the Eliminator, which, in the crazy world of the IPL playoffs, means it is the second game and yet the first in which anyone actually gets knocked out. The winner goes on to play the loser of Tuesday's first qualifier (probably the only game in cricket where the loser can potentially earn more money than the winner) and the team that comes second gets to go home at last.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Rain proved to be Bangalore's friend last week as a six over thrash followed by a washout gave them the three points they needed for qualification.
On the face of it, this game should be made for them - a winner-takes-all contest for a team with three of the best players in T20 history at the top of their order. The problem, though, is their bowling attack which, legspinner Yuzvendra Chahal apart, has simply not performed for large parts of the tournament. Even in their vital clash with Delhi on Sunday the attack struggled, with Ashok Dinda and Mitchell Starc looking particularly tired and ineffectual. One last big effort will be needed just to get Bangalore over the line here - and even then there will be up to two more games to come.
In some respects it would've been a travesty if Rajasthan had not made it to the final stages of the tournament. They led the table for half of it, only to go on a win of just one win in seven games which took them to the brink of elimination. Saturday's match against Kolkata was effectively a knockout game for them (and for the Knight Riders, although they didn't seem to realise it) and they came through in style, winning by nine runs.
The Royals were greatly helped in that game by two returns to form. Chris Morris finally rediscovered the control and variation which made him one of the best T20 bowlers in the world a couple of years ago, whilst former skipper Shane Watson blasted his second T20 hundred to enable Rajasthan to set a target that was just out of reach. Indeed, but for some strange selection decisions - especially the omission of any spinner - they may have won more comfortably. The question is whether that game serves as a spur to them, or whether getting themselves up for another big game so soon after will be too big a step.
Venue and Conditions
The fact that this game takes place at a neutral venue, the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune, won't bother either side. Bangalore have been strong away from home this season, whilst Rajasthan have played all of their games on the road due to BCCI sanctions. The ground actually hosted three of Kings XI Punjab's home matches this season, one of which Rajasthan won comfortably. Par score is around 165, with batting second conferring a slight advantage.
This looks to be a good time to back the Royals. The batting power of the Bangalore lineup will always attract the money, but their popgun bowling, coupled with the fact that they have not played a full game recently, goes against them. Factor in that Rajasthan have key players returning to form just as the likes of Starc seem to be waning and at 2.6213/8 there's an awful lot of reasons to back them.
Top Bangalore Batsman
A lesson learned from this IPL is that, where RCB are concerned, you have to place your money with those top three batsmen, because the men lower down the order don't get much of a chance. In a game such as this the sensible option, even if only at around 4.1, has to be AB de Villiers. The South African loves a big occasion and is definitely at his best in a tight contest.
Top Rajasthan Batsman
Watson's return to form was certainly welcome, but the Australian rarely top scores in two consecutive games. Ajinkya Rahane has a chance to overtake David Warner as the top runscorer in this iteration of the IPL but needs a decent total to do so, which should be incentive enough for him to see his side to another victory, at odds of around 4.1.
Back Rajasthan Royals to win at odds of 2.6213/8
Richard's IPL2015 P/L
Staked: 39 pts
Returned: 56.54 pts
+/-: +17.54 pts