With the first finalist decided, the attention now turns to the battle to stay in with a chance of meeting Mumbai Indians for the 2015 Indian Premier League trophy on Sunday. After Mumbai’s victory over Chennai Super Kings in Tuesday’s first qualifier, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rajasthan Royals will be meeting in Pune on Wednesday for the right to meet Super Kings for a place in the final.
And, especially if the first IPL playoff match of the year is any guide, it is Royal Challengers who go into the eliminator as the favorites. Like Mumbai, it is Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers who enter the match as the team in form. Despite boasting a team featuring the incredible firepower of not just India star Kohli, but also South Africa captain AB de Villiers and the world’s leading exponent at Twenty20 cricket, West Indian powerhouse Chris Gayle, Royal Challengers began the season with just one win in four matches.
But the arrival of Australian bowler Mitchell Starc after injury helped trigger a drastic turnaround that saw the team lose just two of its remaining 10 fixtures. Given that run, Royal Challengers will be disappointed that they were unable to earn a place in the top two and give themselves two chances to reach the final. Instead the rain arrived to halt their final-round match against Delhi Daredevils on Sunday to leave them in a position of win or go home at the MCA International Stadium.
They are a team unquestionably based around its star names. Starc has the best bowling average in IPL 8, with 13.44, while Kohli, De Villiers and Gayle all feature in the top 10 highest run-scorers of the season, and the latter two have delivered the two highest individual scores. In contrast, the Royals have always been more of a team effort, especially centered around emerging Indian talent.
“We have a young team and we rely a lot on our young Indian talent,” Royals mentor Rahul Dravid said in an interview with the official IPL website. “We also push them out there, we believe in them and give them opportunities to play an important role in crucial positions. In a lot of big teams these young guys do not get to play important roles because they depend on their senior players for that. In a team like ours we know that if we want to succeed our juniors have to play an important role, and we give them the confidence to do so and we back them.”
Still, the role of two Australian World Cup winners has also been pivotal in the Royals’ season. With captain Shane Watson out injured, the team came flying out of the blocks under the guidance of fellow Australian Steve Smith to win its first four matches. But Watson’s return coincided with a slump that saw them win two of their next eight, although admittedly two of those games were wash outs. And, citing his desire to concentrate on his own performances with the bat and ball, Watson stepped down last week and handed the reins to Smith on a permanent basis.
Led by Smith, Rajasthan responded by claiming a victory in their must-win encounter with Kolkata Knight Riders on Saturday to make the playoffs. And if Smith can continue to possess the winning touch, it will be the Rajasthan Royals, and not the Royal Challengers Bangalore, who go onto Qualifier 2 on Friday.
Start time: 10:30 a.m. EDT
TV channel: For viewers in the United States, Dish and Mediacom will offer pay-per-view coverage, with subscriptions available through your set-top box or contacting your provider.
Live streaming info: ESPN Cricket will provide live-streaming coverage of every match via a subscription that now costs $29.99.