Mohali: With new batting hero Paul Valthaty in scorching form, hosts Kings XI Punjab may have a slight edge when they clash with a struggling Rajasthan Royals in their Indian Premier League clash on Thursday.
The two sides have a contrasting story so far as Rajasthan have lost direction after making a fantastic start with two wins while the Punjab have shrugged off the opening match defeat to present themselves as a formidable side now.
The Punjab side is on a roll, having beaten heavyweights Deccan Chargers and Chennai Super Kings, thanks to Valthaty, who is in red-hot form. The revelation of Valthaty as an explosive opener has given the Punjab top-order a lot of strength and the big hitting batsman has caught all the attention with his sensational knocks against Chennai (120) and Chargers (75).
KXIP skipper Adam Gilchirst has also struck form with a half-century against Chargers.
Rajasthan bowlers are already struggling and it will be quite a task for them to stop the marauding openers in Valthaty and new skipper Adam Gilchirst, who has also struck form with a half-century against Chargers.
Their last match was abandoned due to rain but Rajatshan are still standing second in the points table behind leaders Kolkata Knight Riders. With two wins -- against Deccan Chargers and Delhi Dardevils -- and as many defeats -- both against Kolkata Knight Riders -- and a no-result, Rajasthan have five points.
They need Shane Watson to fire as over-reliance on Johan Botha and Ross Taylor has only hurt their chances. Also the young Indian faces will also have to raise their hands as one more defeat would put the side under a lot of pressure.
Their captain and spin great Shane Warne not only has to contribute with the ball but have to use all his leadership skills to stop the winning wheel of Punjab. Unlike Kings XI who have enjoyed quite a long gap after their last match on April 16, the Rajasthan have been traveling quite a lot and would be playing their fourth game tomorrow within a week's span.
Punjab too rely on their batting and the key for Rajasthan woud be to polish off the top-oder quickly as their middle-order is yet to play and perform under pressure.
But in any way, Rajasthan would have to put up an improved batting show -- whether they bowl or bat first.
That's the key since Punjab have a good top-order to chase down any target or put up a challenging total for defence. Shaun Tait, Sidhharth Trivedi and Amit Singh along with Botha need to improve their performance and the side in the past has shown the ability to come out from difficult situations.
It's also time that the Indian players such as opener Amit Paunikar and middle-oder batsman Ajinkya Rahane get their act together, if their side has to fare well. Apart from their batting, Punjab would look to its pacers such as Praveen Kumar and Ryan McLaren to bowl out Rajatshan early or deny them a huge total.
They will take confidence from the fact that Rajathan were shot out for just 81, the lowest total so far in the fourth edition, and would look to pile on their misery.
Punjab have played just three matches so far and with two consecutive wins, they have all the opportunity to make a comeback in the tournament.