Struggling Pune Warriors India, with a question mark hanging over the fitness of their impact player Yuvraj Singh, cross swords with high-flying Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League clash at the Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium on Thursday.
The Warriors have lost two matches on the trot by putting up a dismal batting performance.
On the other hand, the Royals go into their second away game after recording a clinically executed and morale-boosting 19-run victory over defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders at home, their second win in as many matches.
Therefore, the Warriors are the underdogs going into the clash and their stuttering batting line-up, which includes proven performers at the international level like Yuvraj, Ross Taylor and Marlon Samuels, needs to buck up and start firing.
Yuvraj pulled out of Pune’s first home game on April 7 against Kings XI Punjab at the eleventh hour, after flopping in their campaign opener in Hyderabad against new outfit Sun Risers, complaining of a sore back.
How and when did he sustain the injury is not known and in his absence, the Warriors were restricted to a paltry 99 for 9 which was easily overhauled by Kings XI.
Not only was Yuvraj missed as a main middle-order batsman, the Warriors were also handicapped without his clever left-arm spin bowling in the middle overs against Punjab.
However, things are looking brighter now as the dashing player is “feeling a lot better”, said team spokesperson Deep Dasgupta.
The Warriors would be eager to get such a key player back on the park at the earliest after suffering successive defeats.
Pune have also been undone by the poor form of Taylor and Samuels and this duo needs to contribute significantly if they hope to trip the high-flying Royals who shot to the top of the table after stunning KKR.
It’s a surprise why Steven Smith, who was one of their players to shine and topped the batting average with a 40-plus figure in the previous edition and even captained the side in a few games, has not got a game yet.
In all likelihood he will replace his under-performing Australian compatriot Mitchell Marsh on Thursday.
Warriors were also let down by the opening pair of Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey in both games.
The former got some good starts but failed to continue and provide the ideal platform for the late-order batsmen to capitalise on.
Captain Angelo Mathews has also not really made a big impact in the two games and he needs to deliver with both bat and ball against the Royals, along with Abhishek Nayar down the order.
The Warriors have a potentially good attack spearheaded by Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, who impressed in the Test series against Australia.
The Royals, on the other hand, have won two close games against Delhi Daredevils and the Knight Riders and would be keen not to let the winning momentum get arrested.
Skipper Rahul Dravid has shown good touch with a half century against the Daredevils while Ajinkya Rahane has chipped in with useful scores.
Stuart Binny, Dravid’s former teammate for Karnataka, has shown his all round prowess a bit and the Royals would be quite pleased with the superb stints of pacers Kevon Cooper in both the matches.
With temperamental S Sreesanth, slinger Shaun Tait and Sidharth Trivedi, who bagged three wickets in the game against Knight Riders, also in the mix, Royals have a good pace armoury.
But the pace-heavy bowling attack needs to complete its overs quickly, as Dravid will be in even bigger trouble after copping a fine of USD 20,000 for his bowlers not maintaining the required over-rate against the Knight Riders.