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Before IPL 2019, not many would have pointed at the return fixture between Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals being the match they most looked forward to watching. In the post-mankad world though, this is going to be a game where non-strikers will be watched as closely as batsmen and bowlers. Under particular scrutiny will be the two protagonists of the drama that kicked off these two teams' IPL 2019 - R Ashwin and Jos Buttler. Will the Kings XI captain feel any additional pressure, knowing that there might be an extra edge to this contest? Will Buttler come out more determined to cart the bowlers everywhere because of what he has since said he perceives as a wrong decision?
Amid that sub-plot and drama, the bigger picture remains the race for qualification. Despite a stirring win against Mumbai Indians away in their last match, Royals' chances look a bit dim, with just two wins from seven games. They've been on the wrong end of four close results, and while different aspects of their execution went awry at various points, the common thread was their tendency to concede the big moments to the opposition. Their bowling has been led by Jofra Archer and Shreyas Gopal, but the support cast has regularly let them down, which is another area they need to work on.
Kings XI have had an up-and-down campaign so far, not stringing together enough wins to be truly dominant, but never letting too many losses pile up to lose spirit either. Ashwin has proved himself an astute captain and reliable bowler. His team though, has been a bit of a slightly off-kilter machine that is getting the job done. You know that if all the wheels align, it would go forward more easily. Lots of their wins have been scrappy affairs, and perhaps one truly dominant performance will mark a turnaround for a smoother ride ahead.
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Kings XI Punjab: Lost to Royal Challengers Bangalore by eight wickets, lost to Mumbai Indians by three wickets, beat Sunrisers Hyderabad by six wickets
Rajasthan Royals: Beat Mumbai Indians by four wickets, lost to Chennai Super Kings by four wickets, lost to Kolkata Knight Riders by eight wickets
It was both sides' opening game this season, and it's one no one is going to forget. When Ashwin ran Buttler out at the non-striker's end, it immediately became the story of the match. Steven Smith was making his return to the IPL, but he walked in when Buttler was out, and went almost unnoticed. Royals were cruising in their chase till then, but that mankad dismissal set off a chain reaction that resulted in a collapse, and a loss. Royals fumed, Ashwin stated plainly that he had acted perfectly within the law. Round 2 should be spicy.
Kings XI Punjab: 1 KL Rahul, 2 Chris Gayle, 3 Mayank Agarwal, 4 Sarfaraz Khan, 5 Mandeep Singh, 6 Nicholas Pooran (wk), 7 Sam Curran, 8 Hardus Viljoen, 9 R Ashwin (capt), 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 M Ashwin
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Ajinkya Rahane (capt), 2 Jos Buttler, 3 Sanju Samson (wk), 4 Steven Smith, 5 Rahul Tripathi, 6 Ashton Turner, 7 Shreyas Gopal, 8 Jofra Archer, 9 K Gowtham, 10 Jaydev Unadkat, 11 Dhawal Kulkarni
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