After their win against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the last match, Kings XI Punjab are now geared up to battle Rajasthan Royals in Mohali on Saturday. This is the fifth home match of this Indian Premier League season for Punjab, who would like to continue their climb up stepping on Rajasthan's shoulder.
Punjab have been the dark-horse of IPL 5 and have steadily made their way up, occupying the fourth position at present, thanks to the wins in their last two matches. Meanwhile, Rajasthan's curve has gone in totally the opposite direction after a rousing start to the season.
Youngsters Mandeep Singh and Nitin Saini have been the find for Punjab this season, having managed to give their team solid starts as openers after regular skipper Adam Gilchrist got injured. Those starts have allowed the experienced Australians Shaun Marsh and David Hussey to lift the tempo in the middle overs.
However, Azhar Mahmood has to be credited for transforming the team's fortunes. Ever since the non-resident Pakistani's inclusion into the eleven, his killer instinct has rubbed onto his team-mates, working as the spark Punjab were searching for.
Gilchrist, who is close to regaining full fitness, must be in a dilemma whether to come back and disturb a winning team or play a full-time coaching role in the dug-out. And looking at the team's upward trend, the Aussie will be tempted to take the latter option.
Rajasthan, on the other hand, were off to a good start in this edition by winning the first two matches against Punjab and Kolkata Knight Riders on their home turf. But after that, their campaign went off track and is now at the crossroads having suffered three consecutive losses. That jolt pushed Rajasthan down to seventh on the leaderboard with six defeats and four wins from 10 matches.
Undoubtedly, Rajasthan will aim to turn things around against the hosts, with skipper Rahul Dravid expected to lead from the front, along with Ajinkya Rahane and Owais Shah. Rahane has been consistent at the top of the order and the proud owner of the Orange Cap with 458 runs at an average of 57.25. Moreover, with the return of Shane Watson, their batting has been further strengthened and should peak now when Rajasthan need it the most.
Dravid must be feeling the need to have a tear-away fast bowler in the eleven. And though Kevon Cooper's injury is most unfortunate, it allows Rajasthan to include Shaun Tait in places of the West Indian allrounder. What ails Rajasthan is that they haven't been able to hold their nerves in crunch situations, losing games they should have won, and Tait might be the man to change things for them.
Mohali has a reputation of laying out a sporting track with equal purchase for both the batsmen and bowlers. And while Rajasthan's comeback can't be ruled out, beating a resurgent Punjab in their backyard may present the visitors a slightly stiff challenge.
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Rahul Dravid (capt), 2 Ajinkya Rahane, 3 Shane Watson, 4 Owais Shah, 5 Shreevats Goswami (wk), 6 Ashok Menaria, 7 Brad Hogg, 8 Ankeet Chavan, 9 Shaun Tait. 10 Pankaj Singh, 11 Amit Singh
Kings XI Punjab: 1 Mandeep Singh, 2 Nitin Saini, 3 Shaun Marsh, 4 David Hussey, 5 Azhar Mahmood, 6 Bipul Sharma. 7 Ryan Harris, 8 Piyush Chawla, 9 Praveen Kumar, 10 Parwinder Awana, 11 Bhargav Bhatt