After pulling out a humdinger against the Mumbai Indians, the fourth-placed Rising Pune Supergiant would be high on confidence and would like to use that at their home ground to try and better the Kolkata Knight Riders, who are second-placed in the points table after a superfluous performance against the Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Despite defending only 160 runs, RPS were able to hold their nerve during tense moments of the game and could execute their plans, especially at the death. Ben Stokes and Imran Tahir bowled superbly in the 17th and the 19th overs, thereby leaving Mumbai with 17 runs to score off the final over.
Although an in-form Rohit Sharma tried his best to get Mumbai past the line, Jayadev Unadkat proved out to be the better cricketer in the last over and won Pune the game.
With Rahul Tripathi and Ajinkya Rahane consistently giving the good starts and the trio of Steve Smith, MS Dhoni, and Stokes in the middle-order, their batting line-up looks to be settled. It is their bowling that is an area of concern, and they should look to address that, despite their near escape in the last game.
Here's the predicted XI for tonight's game against the Kolkata Knight Riders.
Ajinkya Rahane has been one of the most consistent performers for the Supergiant over the past couple of seasons and has been a lynchpin of their batting line-up at the top of the order. The right-handed batsman has been involved in several good opening partnerships with Rahul Tripathi at the top of the order, and those partnerships have given the much-needed cushion to the middle order.
Rahul Tripathi has surprised everyone with his flamboyant style of batting and attacking strokeplay. Being entrusted with the responsibility to open the innings and provide the team a brisk start, the youngster hasn't faltered at all and has scored runs at a strike rate of 152.13. 178 runs from 5 matches hold him in good stead and Pune would hope that he continues his good run in the tournament.
Steve Smith had a minor blip in the last game, in that he couldn't score prolifically on Indian soil and got dismissed by and Indian bowler. For all that he has done against India in international cricket, the last game came as a major surprise. However, his record of 224 runs from 6 games states that the Australian is in red-hot form and it would only be a fool who would take him lightly.
MS Dhoni couldn't quite finish off the innings in the last match, after finishing off a thriller against the Sunrisers Hyderabad. This should not, though, put even an iota of a doubt on the veteran's abilities with the bat, and now that he has been given the luxury to bat at No. 4, it should only be a matter of time before the 35-year-old finds his mojo back and performs consistently for the side.
Ben Stokes was the man of the match in RPS’ last encounter, and deservingly so. The all-rounder bowled the crucial 19th over, that went for just 7 runs when 34 were needed off the last two and also picked up two wickets in addition to taking the catch that dismissed Kieron Pollard. His power-hitting can provide a major boost to the Pune middle order, and the 25-year-old has started justifying his price tag, slowly but surely.
Manoj Tiwary should consider himself a tad unfortunate for the fact that he has been made to bat this low in the batting order. However, despite being asked to bat at number 6, the Bengal batsman has left no stones unturned to make his presence felt and create an impact on every game that he plays. It was his cameo of 22 runs off just 13 balls that proved out to be the difference between the sides.
Rajat Bhatia has played only 3 games for the Supergiant so far in the IPL and keeping in mind his deceptively slow place and variations that he brings to the table, he might be included in the playing XI ahead of Dan Christian, who has been economical but hasn't picked up wickets. In Bhatia, Pune also have a batsman who can bail the side out of tricky situations with the bat.
Washington Sundar, ever since his inclusion into the side, has justified his selection time and again, by being economical in the powerplays and picking up wickets later in the innings. Even in the last game, the 17-year-old went for just 26 runs in his 4 overs and picked up the important wicket of Parthiv Patel. The youngster brings in a fearless approach to the RPS bowling unit and must be given more chances to prosper.
Jayadev Unadkat held his nerves and bowled a good final over to seal the deal for Pune against Mumbai. His mixture of seam-up and slower deliveries has been effective at the death and despite being a tad expensive, Smith has entrusted him with the responsibilities of death bowling owing to his variations. The left-arm across-the-right-hander angle that he generates can also be tricky to hit against, especially in the shortest format of the game.
Imran Tahir has been the No. 1 for the Supergiant and has delivered on the promises made through the reputation of him being the top-ranked T20I bowler. The South African has picked up 10 wickets from 7 matches at an economy rate of 8 runs per over. The leg-spinner often manages to fox the opposition batsmen through the mixture of his conventional leg-breaks and googlies and can be a big weapon for RPS even in the powerplay overs.
Ishwar Pandey hasn't played a game yet in the IPL and this could be the right time to blood the fast bowler in. Shardul Thakur, despite his excellent record in domestic first-class cricket, has looked to be below par in the limited opportunities that he has had this IPL, going for too many at times, and not picking up enough wickets on other occasions. The raw pace that Pandey brings is at par with that of Thakur and Pune might do well if they usher in this change at the bottom of their line-up.