Sunrisers Hyderabad will meet Rising Pune Supergiant at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium, Pune. While Sunrisers have come back well with two wins after a couple of losses midway, Pune are languishing just above last placed Gujarat Lions.
One positive for the Steven Smith-led unit is that they are coming off a victory against Royal Challengers Bangalore. That was almost six days ago and the Pune unit had a longer than usual break between games. Their last match at the venue, though, was a disaster as they lost to Delhi by 97 runs. They were bowled out for a meagre 108.
Sunrisers, on the other hand, found a new star in Kane Williamson, who smashed 89 in the previous game. The inclusion of Williamson also eases the pressure on Warner who has been tasked with getting the team to a big total every single time. Shikhar Dhawan's return to form is also a welcome sign.
Here we take a glance at a few factors that could prove to be the difference between the two sides on the night.
With the bat
Pune will know that they need to put up a fighting score on the board. They have the players to do the job in Ajinkya Rahane, Steven Smith, Ben Stokes and MS Dhoni. What has let them down is the fact that two of these players have not clicked together in a game.
Rahane will be tasked with handling the Sunrisers seamers, especially Bhuvneshwar Kumar who is in exceptional form. Smith and Stokes will need to get past the guile of Rashid Khan and boost the scoring rate. A lot of Pune's success in this game would depend on how they play the eight overs bowled by Bhuvneshwar and Rashid.
Sunrisers will stick to their tried and tested method of relying on Warner to take them to a big score. He has more often than not done the job but if he fails, like he did in the last game, they know that Williamson can do a similar job.
Moises Henriques, Yuvraj Singh, Naman Ojha and Deepak Hooda form a decent middle order after Williamson but except for Henriques and Yuvraj, the others haven't really been tested. Pune have struggled with the ball and Sunrisers will hope that even if their top three men fail, one of the middle order batsmen can take them to a big score.
With the ball
Pune desperately need to find the right bowling resources and quickly. They have over-relied on Imran Tahir for wickets and to curb the scoring rate. However, with the Sunrisers boasting three left-handed batsmen in their top 5, the leggie may not be very effective.
Ben Stokes bowled well against Royal Challengers Bangalore in their last game and Dan Christian, Shardul Thakur and Jaydev Unadkat all came to the party. They will have a similar job when Sunrisers come to their home ground.
Sunrisers are blessed with two exceptional T20 bowlers in Bhuvneshwar and Rashid Khan. The eight overs bowled by these two have more often than not been enough to restrict the opposition. However, they went into the last game with the fifth bowler duties shared between Yuvraj and Henriques, a rather risky move.
While Mohammad Siraj and Siddharth Kaul looked decent they may need an additional bowler in case Ben Stokes, Steven Smith or Ajinkya Rahane get going. Henriques is a decent fifth bowler option but Hooda and Yuvraj aren't which means that Hyderabad might struggle if one of their main bowlers has an off day.
Pune know that Hyderabad expect the bulk of their scoring to come from Warner, Williamson or Yuvraj. While Dhawan's return to form is also worrying for the hosts, Warner is the man they will target to get early. The southpaw has struggled against well-directed balls on the chest in the recent past and this is an area Pune could target.
Ben Stokes can possibly open the attack. Tahir is also a feasible option to open the attack to surprise Warner. His googlies could be a big weapon against the Aussie. Stokes and Thakur will also be tasked with the responsibility of containing Dhawan and Yuvraj with well-directed bouncers. The left-handed duo have both shown weakness against the short ball in the past.
Sunrisers will have two basic agendas to stop Pune at home - stop Rahane and Smith from playing the anchor role and restrict the big hitting of Stokes and Dhoni. While Rashid Khan could be a mighty big weapon against Smith and Stokes, Rahane will be a huge threat if he gets going.
The Hyderabad-based franchise will rely on Siraj or Kaul to get a wicket or two in the middle overs. Henriques with his pace variations could also be useful against the big-hitting Stokes. Dhoni has looked rusty with the bat this IPL but champion players have a habit of returning to form at the right time. Rashid Khan is an unknown commodity and could be a potent weapon against Dhoni.
The X-factor for Pune will be Ben Stokes. The England all-rounder steamed in with purpose at the Chinnaswamy Stadium a few days back taking three wickets for just 18 runs. His bouncers were well directed and troubled the Bangalore batsmen. His batting is also a crucial factor in the middle overs to up the scoring rate.
The fact that Rashid Khan turns the ball into him is also an advantage for Stokes. If he can remain calm, read Rashid’s googlies and channel his aggression, Stokes could be the difference between the two sides.
Rashid Khan is still a bit of an unknown and this has worked in his favour every single time in this IPL. The leggie has a bamboozling googly and bowls with brilliant control making him very difficult to score runs off. With Pune having just one left-handed batsman in their line-up, the Rashid threat is further multiplied. The Afghan spinner will be the X-factor for Sunrisers.
The weak link
Pune's weak link is undoubtedly their bowling. Apart from Tahir and Stokes, none of the others has looked like taking wickets. The two leg-spinner strategy with Zampa and Tahir was also stopped after the Aussie was taken to the cleaners by Samson and Pant. While the inclusion of Thakur and Unadkat brought a bit of a change in the last game, it remains to be seen how consistent they can be.
The defending champions, meanwhile, have next to no weak areas with Williamson strengthening a previously inconsistent middle order. Their bowling is exceptionally strong too. However, if they persist with Henriques and Yuvraj as their fifth bowlers, Pune will have the option to target those four overs. That Yuvraj hasn't clicked with the bat after the first game also means that if Pune manage to break into the middle order early, Sunrisers will be a tad vulnerable.