New Delhi: Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad will shoot it out in New Delhi for the IPL eliminator bearing in mind full well that there will not be another opportunity to make amends. A defeat at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium on Wednesday will end the tournament for either team.
Hyderabad are undoubtedly the surprise entry in the play-offs, but one has to say that they used their little resources to the maximum to move ahead of Royal Challengers Bangalore and defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders - two sides far stronger on paper. Interestingly, Hyderabad beat Rajasthan in their penultimate league match to put one foot in the knock-outs. The first encounter between these two teams, however, went to Rajasthan. Going by that, there is no clear favourite for Wednesday's match but Rajasthan look a far more balanced side with both their batting and bowling coming good.
Rahul Dravid, Ajinkya Rahane and Shane Watson - all of whom have scored in excess of 400 runs in IPL 6 - form the backbone of the batting. With Karnataka allrounder Stuart Binny thriving in his role in his first full-time IPL season - he has several match-winning cameos - and the presence of Twenty20 cricket's leading run-scorer in the veteran Brad Hodge, Rajasthan's batting outweighs that of Hyderabad's by some margin.
Rajasthan Royals will look to move on from the shocking episode of spot-fixing but it won't be easy against Sunrisers Hyderabad who mean business.
Barring Shikhar Dhawan (278 runs in nine matches), who joined the team in the latter part of tournament after recovering from injury, none of Hyderabad's batsmen inspire confidence. Kumar Sangakkara, the designated captain, has had a tournament to forget and Cameron White, who stepped into the breach once Sangakkara lost his place in the XI, has also under-performed. The team will take a degree of confidence from Parthiv Patel's recent run of form, including two match-winning innings, which offers Dhawan support at the top. Now if they can get some runs from White and Hanuma Vihari, Hyderabad will be a stronger outfit.
Where there are few concerns is with the bowling, which gives them the edge over their opponents. Dale Steyn, unarguably the best fast bowler in the world, has continued his romp in the field with 18 wickets with an economy rate of 5.65. He has plenty of support from legspinner Amit Mishra, who has taken 20 wickets giving away just 6.51 in an over. Karan Sharma, Ishant Sharma and the medium-pace all-round pair of Darren Sammy and Thisara Perera too have been among the wickets. Not to forget, Sammy and Perera have played some handy innings to boot.
Rajasthan's bowling is not far behind though. Australian fast bowler James Faulkner is the leading wicket-taker with 26 wickets, with Watson (11) and Kevon Cooper (17) complementing him very well at the other end. Rajasthan's bowling may not have the intimidation factor but on its day it's good enough to put the wind up the opposition.
Looking at both sides, Rajasthan seem to have the upper hand but against a team that has widely defied expectations to make the final four - Hyderabad's mentor Kris Srikkanth likened the achievement to India making the knock-out stage of the 1983 World Cup - they cannot afford to relax a muscle. Add to that the specter of spot-fixing that hangs following the arrest of three of their squad last week, and Rajasthan look the side under a bit more pressure.
All this makes for a cracking contest at the Kotla.
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Rahul Dravid (capt), 2 Ajinkya Rahane, 3 Shane Watson, 4 Sanju Samson (wk), 5 Stuart Binny, 6 Brad Hodge, 7 Sachin Baby, 8 James Faulkner, 9 Kevon Cooper, 10 Pravin Tambe, 11 Siddharth Trivedi
Sunrisers Hyderabad: 1 Parthiv Patel (wk), 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Hanuma Vihari, 4 Cameron White (capt), 5 Biplab Samantray, 6 Darren Sammy, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Dale Steyn, 9 Karan Sharma, 10 Amit Mishra, 11 Ishant Sharma