The fifth season of the IPL is ready to embrace a duel between the batsman of the season so far, Ajinkya Rahane, and arguably the fastest bowler of this edition, Dale Steyn. It will be a sight to behold when Rahane, who has mesmerised the players, pundits and fans of the game with his quality of strokes, will be up against Steyn, who has rattled the stumps of some of the best batsmen of this format, when Rajasthan Royals host Deccan Chargers on Tuesday.
Rahane's magnificent touch during his unbeaten knock of 102 - his maiden Twenty20 century - against Royal Challengers Bangalore has been the talk of the town. In Rahane, Rajasthan have not only found a terrific opening batsman but also a player who is quite capable of carrying their innings together with his array of good cricketing shots. Steyn, with his fierce pace, had almost won the game for Deccan against Mumbai Indians until Daniel Christian spoilt his figures of 3 for 12 by giving away 21 runs in the last over when the visiting team required 18 to win.
Rajasthan's foreign recruits, by and large, have played their part, helping their side win three out of five games so far. Just like Rahane, the form of Owais Shah has been a revelation for Rajasthan. The England batsman's knocks of 76 and 60 against Mumbai and Bangalore, respectively, gave the much-needed fillip to their innings in the middle overs. Brad Hodge, with limited opportunities, has made it count whenever he stayed at the crease for some length. None of the batsmen who have faced Brad Hogg in the tournament so far, has been able to pick his chinaman deliveries. Johan Botha might not have executed the plans set by his skipper Rahul Dravid that well, the competitive spirit that the South African has brought to the Rajasthan camp is unparalleled.
Deccan may still be a little rusty as they are coming into this game after getting an extended break. Their skipper Kumar Sangakkara has been involved in one of the two matches that the team has played so far. Cameron White showed the glimpse of his big-hitting ability in the game against Mumbai when he clubbed two sixes in his 30-run knock. But Deccan would like one of their senior foreign recruits to contribute more consistently. Christian, although has shone with the bat, has leaked a lot of runs. So except Steyn, the other foreign imports still need to prove themselves.
Another thing that gives Rajasthan an edge over Deccan is the form of their Indian players. Whether it is the batting of wicketkeeper Shreevats Goswami or the medium pace of Siddharth Trivedi, both have contributed equally to the team's cause. The strategy of leaving out left-arm spinner Ankeet Chavan and including pacer Pankaj Singh also paid off well for Rajasthan against Bangalore. The tall bowler swung the ball, as well as generated the bounce on an otherwise placid M Chinnaswamy wicket.
Barring Shikhar Dhawan, none of the other Indian batsmen has made any substantial contribution for Deccan. The likes of Parthiv Patel, Bharat Chipli and Ravi Teja are still finding their feet in the batting department. Deccan would also like Amit Mishra to show more control with his leg spin and provide the team more wickets in the middle overs.
Having the benefit of playing at home, which has been their fortress over the years, Rajasthan will start as favourites. But Deccan, who are fresh and taking the field after a gap of eight days, may be at advantage against a jaded Rajasthan, who are coming after playing two back-to-back away games in Kolkata and Bangalore. While another win here will put Rajasthan firmly on track to reach the play-offs, a loss here will put more pressure on Deccan, who have already been beaten in their first two matches. As plenty will be at stake, another absorbing game is on the cards.
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Ajinkya Rahane, 2 Rahul Dravid (capt), 3 Shreevats Goswami (wk), 4 Owais Shah, 5 Brad Hodge, 6 Ashok Menaria, 7 Johan Botha, 8 Brad Hogg, 9 Siddharth Trivedi, 10 Amit Singh, 11 Pankaj Singh
Deccan Chargers: 1 Parthiv Patel (wk), 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (capt), 4 Bharat Chipli, 5 Daniel Christian, 6 Cameron White, 7 Ravi Teja, 8 Amit Mishra, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Ankit Sharma, 11 Anand Rajan