What is sport without a comeback story? IPL 2024 might just witness one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of the league. The Royal Challengers Bengaluru could well be having the Liverpool moment of the Champions League 2019 when the English club fought back from the brink of elimination. RCB’s comeback is no less heroic, spectacular, incredible and defiant.

Effectively ruled out of contention for the playoffs, the Bengaluru side defied all odds and bounced back to win six games on the bounce – a feat no team has achieved this IPL season. The history of the IPL is, sure, replete with such long unbeaten runs – RCB themselves had won seven in a row in 2011 – but never before such a winning streak has been so dramatic. RCB’s fightback has been the story of the 2024 season, the comeback story of the season.

When RCB clash with the Rajasthan Royals in the Eliminator at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, it will be a Royal battle – literally and metaphorically. Captained by Faf du Plessis and piloted by Virat Kohli, RCB are on a roll while the Sanju Samson side have had their moments and will be no pushovers. It will be a contest between sides that are equal in strength. The only difference is that RCB are coming off six consecutive wins and RR are entering the match with four back-to-back losses and one washout. The momentum, if it means something in sport, is with the Bengaluru side.

On the cricketing front, the RCB batters, mainly, Kohli, will try to use the slog-sweep, a shot that has provided him initial thrust to his innings, to good effect and one of the clinching factors of the game will be how effectively Samson and coach Kumar Sangakkara force the RCB batsmen to look for other options to force the pace of scoring.

The big factor in the game, of course, is how deftly Kohli handles Trent Boult, the Royals’ spearhead, who has a habit of taking wickets in the PowerPlays – more precisely in the very first over itself. Another match-up will be between Nandre Burger and du Plessis. A battle within the battle is how well the two South Africans handle each other.

The middle-over contest will be between Rajat Patidar and the Royals spin duo of R Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal. Ashwin, after a rather lacklustre start to the season, has come back into his groove while Chahal, the most successful bowler in the IPL history, is ever-dependable even if slightly out of form in the last few games. Patidar, in the meanwhile, has rediscovered himself by scoring heavily against the spinners. His six-hitting spree against spinners is a contributing factor to the RCB’s resurgence in the season and it will be another battle within the battle. Then there is the Sandeep Sharma factor. The slow medium bowler has had a very good success rate against RCB (26 wickets in 18 games) and he will be a key arsenal in the Royals’ attack.

The last time the two faced off against each other, RCB bowled a lot of short balls to the RR batters and it will be another key factor of the game. How well the Royals will handle or force the RCB bowlers to go for another strategy? RCB also have got spearhead Mohammed Siraj back in form and Glenn Maxwell has been bowling off-spin well lately. Although the Australian’s primary role will be to score runs, his bowling has been a welcome bonus for the Bengaluru side.

Yash Dayal is confident after bowling a match-winning last over against CSK in the last game and then there is Karn Sharma, who has a knack for being part of the sides that have won the IPL title. Sharma was part of triumphant IPL sides in 2016, 17 and 18. Not only has he been bowling well, he could well be a lucky mascot for RCB.

When: Wednesday, May 22, 19:30 IST

Where: Rajasthan Royals vs Royal Challengers Bengaluru, IPL 2024, Narendra Modi Stadium, Ahmedabad

What to expect: A high-scoring game with both teams having big hitters and some quality bowlers. While RCB look good on batting, the Royals have a very formidable bowling attack. It could be a contest between RCB batting and RR bowling.

Head to Head: RR 13 – 15 RCB. There is very little to choose between the sides as far as the past record goes but since 2020, RCB have enjoyed domination over the Jaipur side with a record of 7:3. In the knockout games, both have lost more than they have won – RCB have six wins and nine losses while RR have four wins and five defeats.

Team Watch

Rajasthan Royals

Injury and availability: All players are available, except Jos Buttler, who has joined the national team.

Tactics and Match-Up: While Virat Kohli has done well to negate the threat against Trent Boult in the powerplay, he has fallen seven times in 67 balls against Sandeep Sharma

Probable XI: Yashasvi Jaiswal, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Sanju Samson (c/wk), Riyan Parag, Dhruv Jurel, Rovman Powell, Ravichandran Ashwin, Trent Boult, Sandeep Sharma, Avesh Khan, Yuzvendra Chahal [Impact Sub: Nandre Burger]

Royal Challengers Bengaluru

Injury and Availability: Will Jacks and Reece Topley have returned home to be with the national team

Tactics and Match-Up: Yash Dayal has dismissed Yashasvi Jaiswal twice in 12 balls, conceding only 11 runs in return. The left-arm pacer could have a bigger role in the powerplay.

Probable XI:Faf du Plessis (c), Virat Kohli, Glenn Maxwell, Rajat Patidar, Cameron Green, Mahipal Lomror, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Karn Sharma, Yash Dayal, Lockie Ferguson, Mohammed Siraj [Impact Sub: Swapnil Singh]

Did you know?

– Three of Rajasthan Royal’s five defeats this season have come batting first and their average first innings score is 172 – second worst after Punjab Kings.

– Riyan Parag has scored 531 runs this season. There have been only two instances of a batter scoring more runs batting #4 or below in an IPL season – Pant (579 in 2018) and Rohit (538 in 2013).

– Virat Kohli has hit 20 sixes in the powerplay this season – exactly the same number he managed in his next four best seasons as opener combined for the phase.

What they said:

“I brought out the slog-sweep to the spinners. I just mentally put myself in that situation, never practiced it at all. I know I can hit it (slog-sweep) because I have hit it in the past. I need to take a bit more risks. That’s allowing me to hit that shot off the back foot as well. I have tried to expose that side of the field as well, which for me has been a massive factor in this IPL.” – Virat Kohli on his slogsweeps against CSK spinners

“We have to sit back and accept that we are going through failures, have lost four games on the trot. Got to find out what’s not working out for us as a team. Somebody needs to step up, we have so many match-winners in the team. This is the time we need to show character. We need to score more runs.” – Sanju Samson after RR’s defeat to PBKS – their fourth on the trot before the playoffs.

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