The first half of IPL 2020 might not have been as closely fought as in some of the previous editions, but with no team completely out of the playoffs race yet, it has become competitive in the last few days. The Kings XI Punjab, who were languishing at the bottom of the points table much of the way, have beaten the top three teams in their last three outings. They will look to improve their playoff chances further on Sunday evening in Dubai, as will their opponents, the Sunrisers Hyderabad, who are coming off a confidence-boosting win over the Rajasthan Royals.
Both sides would have been pleased at cantering to victories in their last games despite their big guns not performing. Nicholas Pooran helped the Kings XI chase down the Delhi Capitals' 164 after they had lost KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and Chris Gayle inside the powerplay. Then, on Thursday, Manish Pandey's counter-attacking 83 not out took the Sunrisers home against the Royals after Jofra Archer had removed David Warner and Jonny Bairstow cheaply.
The two sides are currently on eight points each after four wins from ten matches, but the winner of Saturday's match can break into the top four, provided the Capitals beat the Kolkata Knight Riders in the earlier game on the same day.
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An adductor (thigh) injury kept Kane Williamson out against the Royals. There has been no official word on his fitness, but even if he is fit, the Sunrisers might be tempted to stick with Jason Holder, who not only guarantees four overs with the ball but also strengthens their lower-middle order batting.
Bairstow smashed a 55-ball 97 at this very venue to take the Sunrisers to 201 for 6. In response, Pooran fought a lone battle, scoring 77 off 37 balls, with the next highest score being just 11. Rashid Khan picked up 3 for 12 as the Kings XI - bowled out for 132 in 16.5 overs - went on to lose by 69 runs.
Kings XI Punjab: 1 KL Rahul (capt, wk), 2 Mayank Agarwal, 3 Chris Gayle, 4 Nicholas Pooran, 5 Glenn Maxwell, 6 Deepak Hooda, 7 James Neesham, 8 M Ashwin, 9 Ravi Bishnoi, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Arshdeep Singh
Sunrisers Hyderabad: 1 David Warner (capt), 2 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 3 Manish Pandey, 4 Vijay Shankar, 5 Priyam Garg, 6 Abdul Samad, 7 Jason Holder, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Shahbaz Nadeem, 10 Sandeep Sharma, 11 T Natarajan
Khan has been the most successful bowler for the Sunrisers but the Kings XI have a counter for him in Gayle. Since 2018, Gayle averages 57.7 at a strike rate of 201 against legspin in the IPL. Against Khan, he has scored 79 runs in 45 balls in all T20s while being dismissed thrice. The only time Khan conceded over 50 in an IPL match was against the Kings XI in Mohali in 2018 when Gayle took him apart en route an unbeaten 104 off 63 balls. Meanwhile, Sandeep Sharma has got Gayle out four times in nine innings while conceding only 64 off 59 balls. It may be worth bringing on Sharma for an over when Gayle comes to the crease.
Rahul has scored lots of runs this IPL but has managed only 115 from 117 balls against spinners while getting out thrice. The Sunrisers can employ Khan against him as the legspinner has got him out twice in four T20 innings while giving away only 16 runs off 24 balls.
Stats that matter
The Sunrisers dominate the head-to-head numbers with 11 wins from 15 matches.
Teams batting first have won 12 out of the 18 games in Dubai this IPL.
Khan's best numbers are against the Kings XI: 14 wickets in seven innings at a strike rate of 12.
Pooran's 22 sixes are the most by a batsman so far in IPL 2020. In fact, he has more sixes to his name than fours (21). Overall also he has 198 fours and as many sixes in T20 cricket.