Royal Challengers Bangalore boast of one of the best top orders in T20s and yet they are staring down the barrel of an early exit from IPL 2017 should they lose to Rising Pune Supergiant in the 34th match of IPL 2017.
Although they were struggling with injuries at the start of the season, even the return of captain Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers hasn't helped RCB as their batting has let them down. Chris Gayle hasn't been his usual self and the middle-order is short on both experience and form.
Steven Smith's side are in fourth place and barring the injury to Stokes, actually, have a settled side that is clicking. However, the England all-rounder is likely to miss the game against RCB as well and that will be a huge blow to their bowling department, which looked short in their last game against Kolkata Knight Riders.
Prior to the loss against KKR, Pune had won three games in a row and go into the game against RCB in fourth place, with destiny firmly in their own hands as they look to make it through to the playoffs. Their batting line-up boasts of great depth and is arguably one of the most in-form of all the sides in the tournament.
The absence of Stokes, is a huge blow for Pune as the bowling suffers massively in his absence. While Imran Tahir hasn't been amongst the wickets in the last few games, without Stokes, he becomes the only major threat with the ball. Their battery of Indian pacers aren't setting the world on fire and only putting more pressure on the Proteas spinner to be amongst the wickets. So it won't be a surprise if they replace Faf du Plessis, who didn't bat or bowl in the previous game with a foreign bowler.
RCB look set to welcome back Tymal Mills but their biggest problem this year hasn't been their bowling but their batting which has struggled to get past 150 of late. The change in nature of the track at Bengaluru might have something to do with that and the fact that the track at Pune is likely to be similar won't fill them with great confidence.
With RCB fighting to stay alive in the tournament and RPS trying to strengthen their hold on fourth spot, it will be interesting to see which side gets what they want in Pune.
Match date: 29-04-2017
Match time: 1600 hours (IST)
Venue: Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium, Pune
If Rising Pune Supergiant bat first
Predicted score: 170+
Ajinkya Rahane hasn't been in great form but such has been the performance of Rahul Tripathi that Rising Pune Supergiant have barely felt it. Steve Smith and MS Dhoni are both in good form which bodes well for their chances against an RCB bowling attack which comprises of two of the best exponents of leg spin in the tournament.
Samuel Badree and Yuzvendra Chahal are two of RCB's key bowlers but RPS have Rahane, Smith, Dhoni and Tiwary in the top five and all of them are great players of spin. So the returning Tymal Mills will be crucial to the visitors' chances of restricting Pune to a total which they will hope to chase down to stay alive in the competition.
However, with MS Dhoni finally looking in fine form, Rahane and Tripathi forming a potent opening combination and Smith leading from the front, it will be difficult for RCB to restrict them to a low total.
If Royal Challengers Bangalore bat first
Predicted score: 160+
Despite boasting of Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers in the top three, RCB have struggled with the bat so far this season. Gayle hasn't fired apart from the game against Gujarat Lions, Kohli hasn't been as consistent as he would have liked and AB hasn't troubled the scorers a great deal apart from his comeback game where he scored an unbeaten fifty.
If RCB are to have any hope of making it through to the playoffs they will need their top three to fire. Given the quality and experience that they possess, you would think that it just be a matter of time before that happens. But RCB need that to happen now and not later as their hopes of staying alive in the competition rest on this game against Pune.
Imran Tahir will be key for RPS with the ball. With a relatively inexperienced middle-order barring Kedar Jadhav, the South African leg-spinner will be looking to weave his magic and get amongst the wickets once again. If the top three don't fire once again, then his job will be made even more easier.
Predicted winners: Rising Pune Supergiant