On a hot late afternoon in Jaipur, Nicholas Pooran was among the earliest to center-wicket practice. It mustn't have been easy out there, padding up in 37 degrees heat and going all out with the range-hitting. Pooran's fellow colleagues from Lucknow Super Giants and Rajasthan Royals joined him much later, when the sun went down and the conditions were easier in the middle. But for the security personnel manning the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, the job just got a whole lot more challenging. "Halla Bol", or "raise your voice", no longer remained a team tagline. Everybody wanted a closer shot of their favourite cricketers; the IPL was in town after all.
Jaipur is among the last two cities to hold the tournament this year, and is certainly the home base that's endured the longest wait to welcome its team in this post-lockdown world. Perhaps no one captured the sentiment better than Yuzvendra Chahal who has been around the team for a season and a half now. "Sir ye mera toh debut hai Rajasthan ke liye yahan pe," the legspinner quipped when asked about the home advantage in Jaipur.
For RR, it feels like a good time to come back home too. They are on a three-match winning streak and have just handed defeat to an opponent they just didn't have the measure of last year. And now sitting atop the points table, they meet a side they beat twice in two attempts last season and whom they will be hosting for the very first time in Jaipur. That's how fresh this encounter is going to be.
No team at the moment will perhaps be happier with an away win than LSG, given the fickle conditions back home in Lucknow. Everyone's aware of RR's strong numbers but KL Rahul and Co. would feel they've a chance to catch the hosts unawares at a venue they've taken their time to come back to. After all, what was once a "fortress" has struggled to even capture all of the home games in recent times. So expect Jaipur to make the most of what's on its plate, and if it means a bit of fanfare at the practice session then so be it.
What: RR vs LSG, Match 26, IPL 2023 at 7:30 PM local
Where: Sawai Mansingh Stadium, Jaipur
What to expect: Red and pink everywhere in Jaipur except on the square in the middle. There are eight black-soil pitches at the venue and the three of them in the center have been prepared for this IPL season. The match will be played on pitch #4 which, on a closer look, looked dry underneath and a layer of grass has been left to keep the surface together. The only T20I played here threw up middling totals in the 160s and it got harder and harder to bat as the match progressed. R Ashwin had observed how the ball spun more the slower he bowled. There has been consistent dew in the evenings here and the curator expects more of the same during the match too.
The ground, one of the smallest capacity cricket stadiums in India, sports a rather big playing area with roughly 70m boundaries all around. Chahal pointed out how he was looking to bowl here as a spinner.
News: It will be interesting to see if RR continue to back Riyan Parag. The 21-year-old has returned scores of 7, 20, 7 and 5 this season.
Tactics & matchups: Nicholas Pooran's average against spin in IPL drops from 42 to 24 when he's facing offspin, and the SR takes a hit by 20 points. R Ashwin would be itching to bowl to the left-handed power-hitter.
Probable XI: Jos Buttler, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Sanju Samson(w/c), Riyan Parag, Shimron Hetmyer, Dhruv Jurel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Trent Boult, Adam Zampa, Sandeep Sharma, Yuzvendra Chahal
Lucknow Super Giants
News: Kyle Mayers continues to keep Quinton de Kock out. Will something give way in Jaipur? Yudhvir Singh Charak had a dream debut in the last game and is likely to keep his place but LSG would also be keen to find a place for Amit Mishra.
Tactics & matchups: In IPL since 2018, Jos Buttler averages a shade under 29 against legspin and has been dismissed nine times to them. In Ravi Bishnoi and/or Amit Mishra, LSG have the personnel to take the RR opener on.
Probable XI: KL Rahul(c), Kyle Mayers/Quinton de Kock, Deepak Hooda, Marcus Stoinis, Krunal Pandya, Nicholas Pooran(w), Ayush Badoni, Avesh Khan, Yudhvir Singh Charak, Mark Wood, Ravi Bishnoi
Did you know?
- In Jaipur, Buttler averages 54.25 and scores his runs at a SR of 143. He has four fifties here with a high score of 95*.
- Marcus Stoinis has gotten the better of Sanju Samson twice in the 12 balls he's bowled to him.
What they said
"We have a very strong team and we are placed second. It will be a nice battle against the top-placed RR" - Yudhvir Singh Charak
"It's a big ground, so as a spinner I am very happy here... I, Ashwin and Zampa have played together in the last two games and we have a good bonding among ourselves" - Yuzvendra Chahal