Friday’s Indian T20 League 2020 fixture between Punjab and Rajasthan promises to be a high stakes contest with plenty riding on the game for both teams. Punjab are in a good position to make the playoffs after winning five consecutive games but they will be wary about any slip up that gives Kolkata and Rajasthan an opportunity to capitalize and seize the initiative in the race for a top-four finish.

Rajasthan, on the other hand, simply must win the match against Punjab to keep their bleak playoff aspirations alive. The season 1 champions currently find themselves sixth in the standings and must win their remaining two league matches this season, while hoping results elsewhere go in their favour to qualify for the playoffs. They won their last match in convincing fashion against Mumbai and will be hoping for more of the same when they square off with Punjab in Abu Dhabi.

Rajasthan can also take heart from the fact that they share a superior head-to-head over Punjab. Besides the one tie between the teams in their 20 encounters against each other, Rajasthan have won 11 and Punjab claimed victory in eight. The previous match between them this season also saw Rajasthan win and here’s a closer look at the key players and factors to look forward to in what’s a crunch encounter.

Steve Smith needs to step up and contribute

The Rajasthan skipper’s form has been a bit hot and cold over the course of the season. Second on the leaderboard for most runs scored by a Rajasthan player, Steve Smith has made 276 runs at an average of 25.09 and a strike rate of 129.57, making three half-centuries along the way. Smith’s average so far this season is his worst ever for a single edition of the Indian T20 League.

While his contribution to the team may not look as bad as is being made out at first glance, a closer inspection into his runs this season reveals that the Australian has gone off the boil with the bat in Rajasthan’s last six matches. During Smith’s first six matches of the season, his strike rate was 19% better than it is in his last six games. His average has also fallen slightly in his last six games, while his balls per boundary rate has increased by 2.92 during the same period. Smith’s been dismissed 10 times by pacers this year and the Australian has fallen within the first 10 balls of his innings on five occasions so far.

Steve Smith in Indian T20 League 2020
First Six Matches Metrics Last Six Matches
157 Runs 119
110 Balls 103
26.17 Average 23.80
142.73 Strike Rate 115.53
2 50s 1
15 4s 11
7 6s 2
5.00 Balls per boundary 7.92

Players to watch:

Punjab – Chris Gayle

Punjab have looked like a different unit altogether since Chris Gayle’s introduction to the side. He guided Punjab to victory by scoring 51 off 29 balls at a strike rate of 175.86 in their last match against Kolkata and has made 177 runs at an average of 35.40 despite playing at an unfavourable number three position since coming into the team. Perhaps the biggest benefit since he came into the team is that he’s solved the troubles that Punjab had at the number three position. Prior to Gayle, Punjab had used five different players at number three with none of them playing more than two innings. They had scored just 85 runs at an average 14.17 and a strike rate of 117.04, while managing only 10 boundaries. Gayle, meanwhile, has a strike rate of 138.04 at number three with the help of 24 boundaries and has dominated the spinners this year, going at a strike rate of 158.49, which isn’t good news for Rajasthan’s two leg spinners.

Rajasthan – Ben Stokes

The English all-rounder may have joined the Rajasthan team late, but that hasn’t prevented him from making an impact on the side’s performances this year. He’s played six matches this season and has scored 217 runs at an average of 43.40 and a strike rate of 133.12. His performance in the last match against Mumbai, in particular, will fill both him and the entire team with confidence. Chasing a target of 196 against table-toppers Mumbai, Ben Stokes took the match away from the reigning champions before they even knew it. Opening the batting for Rajasthan, Stokes hit an unbeaten 60-ball 107 to help his side claim an easy win. Rajasthan will be hoping more of the same from Stokes, who has hit 28 4s for them this year – more than any other player from the team. Even though he’s yet to claim a wicket this season, Stokes is capable of making his presence felt with the ball as well.

Stats to watch out for:

1: Run needed by Glenn Maxwell to reach 1500 runs in the Indian T20 League.

2: 6s required by Nicholas Pooran to reach 200 T20 6s.

7: 6s required by Chris Gayle to reach 1000 T20 6s.

27: Runs needed by Chris Gayle to reach 13500 runs in T20s.

45: Runs required by Nicholas Pooran to reach 3000 runs in T20s.

339: Runs Jos Buttler has scored versus Punjab, his most against any team in the Indian T20 League. 

Writer’s pick:

While Punjab may go into the game as favourites, Rajasthan will be confident about getting a result themselves. However, unlike Rajasthan, Punjab look like a more balanced unit at the moment with plenty of individuals doing their bit for the team, making them the likelier winner on Friday.

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Sajjad Hussain