Thursday, May 29, 2008

Royals prepare to battle Daredevils

A high-octane contest between two well-balanced sides is on the anvil when table toppers Rajasthan Royals take on the confident Delhi Daredevils in the first semifinals of the Indian Premier League on Friday.

The two teams, which finished first and fourth in the preliminary 56-game phase of the Twenty20 league, look evenly matched ahead of what promises to be a top-drawer stuff in front of a capacity crowd at the Wankhede Stadium.

The team that holds its nerves better and grabs chances that come its way would go through to the summit clash against the winners of the second semifinal, on May 31, between Punjab King's Eleven and Chennai Super Kings.

The second semifinal is also to be held at the Wankhede while the final is scheduled on June 1 at the D Y Patil Stadium, having a bigger crowd capacity.

The Shane Warne-led Rajasthan, impregnable at home in Jaipur, had finished with only three losses from their 14 preliminary phase ties and have a 1-1 head-to-head record against the Daredevils, led by Virender Sehwag, who got into the last four with seven wins and 15 points to their credit.

Both had lost their matches to hosts Mumbai Indians when they visited this metro earlier and those ties were held in D Y Patil. Both must be wishing fervently that a change in venue for this knock-out tie would bring in happy tidings.

Both the teams have depended on their top-order to fire well and pile up a big total, and middle orders of both the sides looked a bit under-prepared when chips were down.

They would be keen to topple the top three rival batsmen cheaply to gain a big advantage.

Tracks at the Wankhede for the IPL have helped the seam bowlers by providing lateral movement and extra bounce and someone of the calibre of Delhi Daredevils' champion bowler Glenn McGrath would relish rolling his arm over here.

The battle between McGrath, with support from Sri Lankan Farveez Maharoof and V Yo Mahesh, and Rajasthan's successful innings launchers Graeme Smith (416 runs) and Swapnil Asnodkar could be crucial to the game's outcome.

The same applies to the Sohail Tanvir-Shane Watson-Munaf Patel combine who will be up against the marauding Delhi opening pair of Gautam Gambhir (523) and Sehwag (403), as well as another in-form batsman at number three, Shikhar Dhawan.

Tanvir, with his extra quick bowling arm action similar to another Pakistani Wasim Akram, has been a real revelation in the IPL and has hardly been collared by any rival batting line-up, indicated by his superb haul of 21 wickets at just 10 runs per victim.

The left armer has been outstanding both in the beginning and at the death and is a major threat that needs to be negotiated well by the Delhi batsmen who did not play against him in the previous two clashes.

Rajasthan possess a better spin attack in the great Warne and his understudies Yousuf Pathan and Dinesh Salunkhe while Delhi depend on Amit Mishra, for the most part, with Sehwag chipping in with his off breaks. But seam bowlers are expected to play a bigger role at the Wankhede.

Delhi have had a sizeable break of five days going into the tie while Rajasthan, without a few key players including Warne, were outclassed by Punjab King's XI yesterday.

Winning the toss and fielding first has become the order of the day for matches which commence at 8 pm and the trend is likely to continue on Friday.

It has been largely rain-free so far in Mumbai, barring light drizzles, and the IPL authorities must be hoping that the weather remains clear over the next few days.

The high prevailing humidity, however, is not only uncomfortable for the players but also an indicator that rains are around the corner.