The Eliminator clash features two of the more schizophrenic teams of IPL 2020. On October 21, as the Royal Challengers Bangalore were running KKR ragged in Abu Dhabi and had seemingly plonked one shiny shoe into the First Qualifier, Sunrisers Hyderabad were in the proverbial mid-table quicksand. Then the UAE summer was on its last legs, and the harsh afternoons made way for more pleasant evenings. SRH flicked on a switch and beat each of the other three qualifiers in the run-in and finished on the right side of another Net Run Rate logjam.
On the surface, it would appear that David Warner’s side is surer of its footing. SRH have built up considerable momentum through the last few games, one of which included a clinical dismantling of RCB at Sharjah. Wriddhiman Saha, an inspired selection at the top, has been a revelation and has freed Warner from his shackles. Shahbaz Nadeem has developed a carrom ball, Sandeep Sharma has added miles to his reputation as a slayer of PowerPlays and Rashid Khan has been, well Rashid Khan. Playing in their fifth straight Playoffs, against an out-of-form opposition that seldom finds itself in this territory, must feel like an opportunity begging to be grabbed.
Yet it is not as if SRH far outgun their opponents. RCB enjoyed a similar run in the first half of the tournament and have match winners littered through their line-up. At any point in the last four years, Virat Kohli could have been said to be in the form of his life. But it has been a strange season for him, a strike-rate of 122 offsetting an aggregate of 460 runs. The RCB captain has grappled to find the tempo in the middle-overs and the flaky lower middle-order has left AB de Villiers to do much of the heavy-lifting at the death.
If RCB are to make any kind of push – even a heroic failed one – they’ll need to do so right at the top of either innings. They may have a number of disadvantages going into this meeting but the fleetingness of a T20 contest and the two red-letter names in their line-up can minimise all of them. However, any knockout game they play will also be shrouded by their history of underachievement at this tournament. Despite the dramatic dip in form, RCB appeared a happy, relaxed outfit for having ended a three-year drought to make the final week of the tournament. But they are now up against a side handed a new lease of life and one that’s least fazed by sudden-death cricket.