The last time Virat Kohli and Steve Smith clashed with each other was the recently concluded India-Australia Test series, and now both will be aiming to stem the rot when Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) take on Smith’s Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) in an Indian Premier League (IPL) tie here on Sunday.
Both the franchises have lost three out of their four games and would be eager to plug the holes as momentum can quickly shift in a high-paced T20 cricket tournament like the IPL.
Despite Kohli’s return from injury with a stylish half century and a hat-trick from leg-spinner Samuel Badree, RCB went down to Mumbai Indians in a low-scoring affair on Friday while Pune was simply outplayed by Gujarat Lions on the same day.
Kohli’s 62 off 47 balls is also an indicator of the bigger and better things that can be expected from the India captain.
The 28-year-old had also stitched together the highest opening stand of 63 runs with out-of-touch Chris Gayle (22), followed by a 47-run stand with AB de Villiers (19), who also came in after recovering from an injury.
The hosts may, however, rethink their strategy of playing Gayle, who was seen struggling during his 27-ball knock and may go in with Shane Watson, who can also be handy with his medium pace.
The middle order comprising Kedar Jadhav, Madeep Singh and Pawan Negi can also be expected to step on the gas in the slog overs, specially against a weaker bowling line-up like Pune.
In the bowling department, Badree will be keen to replicate his superb show alongside fellow leggie Yuzvendra Chahal and pace duo of Tymal Mills and Sreenath Aravind.
On the other hand, Pune will be expecting former skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni to get his vintage touchback, especially after getting out with another single digit score on Friday.
If Pune is to win the contest, the top order — Ajinkya Rahane, Smith, Rahul Tripathi and million dollar boy Ben Stokes — will need to shoulder the responsibility of getting the side a good total.
While Rahane failed in the previous match, Smith and Rahul looked good during their 64-run second wicket to stand before the team fell apart against Gujarat Lions’ pacer Andrew Tye’s magical spell of 5/17, including a hat-trick in the final over.
Pune’s fate also lies on South African leg-spinner Imran Tahir, who was clobbered all around the park by the Gujarat duo of Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith.
Before Friday’s match, Tahir successfully delivered whenever the ball was thrown to him by Smith. Veteran all-rounder Rajat Bhatia with his cutters, can return a handful on Sunday, considering the slowish nature of the wicket here.