The business end of IPL 2011 is not yet upon us but the race for the four playoff spots is certainly heating up. The way things stand with respect to the points table, Royal Challengers (nine points from eight games) may have an edge over their Friday night rivals Kings XI Punjab (six points from seven games), but it is not an advantage that cannot be blunted soon.
A full house or at least near full-one is bound to greet the two sides at the Chinnaswamy Stadium with the fickle weather unlikely to keep the multitudes from pouring in. Like many of the IPL sides this season, the weather in Bangalore too has been blowing hot and cold (read wet), the rain invariably following the extreme humidity that is not normally associated with this city.
Tillakaratne Dilshan is the one man who should feel at home for in Colombo too, whenever cricket is to be played it’s either humid or it pours. But the newly-appointed Sri Lankan captain has yet to fire, either with the bat or the ball. In some ways it could be a blessing in disguise since the team will not miss him much when he leaves for national duty.
Paul Valthaty, in the near future at least, will have no such national duties to contend with but that he has become a force to reckon as his tally suggests: 301 runs, average of over 50 and a strike rate of nearly 150. Kings XI do not have Indian stars of note for crowd support to be divided but surely there will more than a few thousands coming through the turnstiles to watch this not-so-young man attempt the spectacular once again.
Valthaty will first have to get past Zaheer Khan though, who as Adam Gilchrist would have no doubt told his new charge, can be craftier than most. With an economy rate nearing nine, Zaheer hasn’t exactly been at his best but Valthaty may find that the leader of the Indian attack a bit too much to deal with.
Dealing with Chris Gayle and finding the ball that he will hit out of the ground every now and then may be an altogether different challenge for Praveen Kumar, the man who would have opened the bowling with Zaheer in the World Cup but for an injury. But Praveen is not known for his economy; rather it is his ability to pick early wickets that has given him a healthy reputation. Also Gayle, who looks the most likely candidate to be adopted by the Bangalore fans as one of their own, will not like the pace with which Praveen comes at him.
Both teams may not have a problem with the pace off the pitch though, something Kings XI coach Michael Bevan pointed out. A high-scoring contest is on the cards then, provided the weather holds as well as the pitch is expected to. Of course, nothing can ever be said with certainty about both aspects but then so is the case with T20 cricket.