All eyes will be on Australian batsman Steve Smith who will be making a comeback to the IPL arena when Rajasthan Royals host Kings XI Punjab in Jaipur on Monday. The former Australia skipper along with David Warner were prohibited from featuring in the previous edition as fallout for their role in the infamous ball-tampering scandal in Cape Town.
Smith was last seen in action in the Bangladesh Premier League before he sustained an elbow injury which ruled him out of the rest of the tournament. The 29-year-old had to undergo surgery and is yet to complete his recovery from it. But one can expect the Royals to wait until the last minute to confirm as to whether Smith can make a comeback or not. Smith’s reputation as one of the world’s best batsmen prior to his ban would make it quite a surprise if he gets dropped from the Australian World Cup squad. But Smith will be eager to get into the groove before the start of the big tournament and there could hardly be a better stage than the IPL for that.
Apart from Smith, though, there will be significant spotlight on Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes. Buttler was Royals’ driving force last season and has since cemented his place in England squads accross formats. He recently blazed a 150 in 77 balls against a rejuvenated West Indies and looks set to pick up from where he left off last season for RR. Stokes, on the other hand, has experienced a dip in his batting form recently but his all round abilities should keep him in the playing XI. The franchise will also try to make the most of the duo who will return back home on April 25 due to ECB’s diktat because of the World Cup.
With Jaydev Unadkat, Varun Aaron, Dhawal Kulkarni, Jofra Archer, Ish Sodhi in the side the bowling unit, Rajasthan have a lot of quality but the lack of experience might be a worry.
R Ashwin-led Kings XI Punjab, on the other hand, would heavily bank on the opening pair of Chris Gayle and KL Rahul. The Indian batsman was the third-highest run-getter in the previous edition with 659 runs in 14 innings. Gayle, on the other hand, is returning after a brilliant limited-overs outing with the Windies against England. While Royals would heavily bank on Stokes, the Kings would expect the same from their all-rounder Sam Curran.
Ashwin would also take this chance to redeem himself and prove that he still possesses the quality to make a difference in this format. With Mohammed Shami, Andrew Tye and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Punjab’s bowling look pretty strong.
Rajasthan Royals: Ajinkya Rahane (C), Steve Smith, Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler, Ashton Turner, Ish Sodhi, Oshane Thomas, Liam Livingstone, Sanju Samson, Shubham Ranjane, Stuart Binny, Shreyas Gopal, Sudhesan Midhun, Jaydev Unadkat, Prashant Chopra, Mahipal Lomror, Aryaman Birla, Riyan Parag, Dhawal Kulkarni, Krishnappa Gowtham, Varun Aaron, Shashank Singh, Manan Vohra, Rahul Tripathi
Kings XI Punjab: Ravichandran Ashwin (C), Sam Curran, Varun Chakaravarthy, Mohammed Shami, Nicholas Pooran, Moises Henriques, Hardus Viljoen, Darshan Nalkande, Sarfaraz Khan, Arshdeep Singh, Agnivesh Ayachi, Harpreet Brar, Murugan Ashwin, Chris Gayle, Andrew Tye, Lokesh Rahul, Ankit Rajpoot, Mandeep Singh, Simran Singh, Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and David Miller