|Brett Lee and Shane Watson
Jaipur: Cricket fans in the Pink City have always responded positively to Indian Premier League (IPL) matches since the inception of the tournament. But on Friday night, if the organisers are to be believed, the demand for a seat at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium could be at its peak when Rajasthan Royals take on Kolkata Knight Riders in their home match.
The sudden influx of star Australian players in both teams has certainly raised the glamour quotient of the match. Even on Thursday afternoon, the small group of cricket enthusiasts, who braved the scorching heat to come and watch the practice sessions, was disappointed not to find Brett Lee or Shane Watson at the nets.
Like Watson of the Royals, the man who hammered a sparkling ODI century only a few days ago, Lee, too, could not practice as he joined the team late in the evening along with Shakib-al Hasan of Bangladesh.
They are likely to play on Friday. The Aussie imports would definitely be under great pressure as both teams expect them to make the difference.
The Knight Riders management, however, has decided to leave out their other two Aussie recruits — Brad Haddin and James Pattinson — from the current combination. The duo has been asked to stay back in Calcutta.
The Knight Riders should be on a high, with a morale-boosting victory over Deccan Chargers, especially after their opening match heartbreak against Chennai Super Kings, a match they somehow managed to lose.
For them, Jacques Kallis back-to-back half-centuries underlined the South Africans worth and consistency but their bowling looked thin.
With Lee joining the side, Knight Riders skipper Gautam Gambhir would breathe easy. On paper, Knight Riders are one of the best batting outfits in the current IPL.
Apart from Kallis, Manvinder Bisla has also played a respectable helping hand and no wonder Gambhir sounded extremely confident when he was asked what he would like to learn from his counterpart, Shane Warne.
I have nothing to learn from Warne, Gambhir said. Inside the field, all teams are even and we are going there to fight it out. A captain is as good as his team and a team wins because of the performance of its eleven players. We have a fine side and we are here to win, he added.
The Knight Riders captain also left a warning for those who feel that arrival of Watson would make the home side favourites against the team from the eastern metropolis.
Yes, I know Watson could be playing tomorrow (Friday)...he is in great form, just scored a superb hundred in Bangladesh.
But mind you, T20 format is different from 50 -over games as you dont get time to settle down. Things here could be different and we are all gearing up for the challenge... We have plans for Watson and need to execute them, said the Delhi-based player.
In contrast, the Rajasthan Royals under the charismatic Warne have beaten both Deccan Chargers and the Delhi DareDevils to get off to a flying start in the tournament.
Warnes ploy to field Johan Botha at No.3 has taken his opponents by surprise and the South African, primarily a nagging off-spinner, has wielded the willow with gay abandon.
Under Warne, Rahul Dravid too seemed to have realised what is expected of him in this slam-bang format, which is not natural to his kind of stroke-making.
In the bowling department, the Royals rely heavily on Australian Shaun Tait, while Warne proved against Delhi that he still has some aces up his sleeves which can make life difficult for any batsman.
While Royals have been dependent on a couple of international players and several uncapped players like Ashok Menaria, Siddharth Trivedi, Amit Singh, Ajinkya Rahane and Amit Paunikar, Knight Riders have several players with international experience to choose from. It could turn out to be a exciting and interesting contest.