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Royals fancy their chances

Rahul Dravid

Mohali: On recovery trail after a poor start to the tournament, King XI Punjab would be keen to keep up the momentum when they take on the floundering Rajasthan Royals in an IPL match here on Saturday.

In their last two matches, Punjab pulled off stunning victories over Chennai Super Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore. The wins were significant because Punjab were playing in away games and placed them among the top-four team in the table.

Rajasthan Royals, on the other hand, would be low on morale after suffering successive defeats at the hands of Delhi DareDevils. They were undone by Virender Sehwag’s heroics with the bat and young Pawan Negi’s sensational bowling effort in their last game. The Rahul Dravid-led side will be desperate to end the losing streak knowing well that another loss may almost shut the door on their chances of making the knockout stage.

Rajasthan have so far won just four out of 10 and are placed seventh in the points table. They will be hoping that Australia’s prolific all-rounder Shane Watson comes good on Saturday after his failure with the bat in last match.

Dravid and his opening partner and Ajinkya Rahane (458 runs so far including a century) have been in good form at the top. But the middle order, including Brag Hodge, Owais Shah and Ashok Menaria, will have to get their act together.

Watson and Pankaj Singh will also have to bowl their best if Rajasthan are to fancy their chances.

Talking about Punjab, the side have done well by winning five of their 10 matches thus far despite a hamstring injury to their captain Adam Gilchrist.

Punjab were buoyed after former Pakistani all-rounder Azhar Mahmood joined the side.

The 37-year-old Mahmood, now a British national, seems to have infused new energy in the side, which looked down and out at one stage.

The aggressive medium pacer has not only impressed with his wicket-taking abilities — he scalped three in the last match — but also made useful contributions with the bat.

Stand-in captain David Hussey’s leadership has revived the sagging fortunes of the team and he has also struck some brilliant knocks making 255 runs in the tournament so far.

Under him, the team’s fielding seem to have improved a lot. Aussie left-hander Shaun Marsh and domestic recruit Mandeep Singh, who is the highest run getter for his team with 277 runs, have lent strength to Punjab’s batting. In the bowling department, leg-spinner Piyush Chawla has done well and has taken 12 wickets so far. The duo of Praveen Kumar and Parwinder Awana has also been successful in containing the opponent batsmen. The inclusion of Ryan Harris will further boost Punjab’s bowling arsenal. (agencies)