IPL 2019: Royal battle on the cards as Rajasthan, Punjab begin campaign

Bolstered by the return of Steve Smith, Rajasthan Royals hosts a Kings XI Punjab team with a strong, versatile bowling attack.

Rajasthan Royals players train ahead of Monday's home match against Kings XI Punjab.   -  PTI

Cricket is in the air in this ancient, royal city.

The men in pink greet you from the billboards inside the airport. At the hotel lobby there is a replica of the cricket pitch – with stumps, bat and ball – right next to an idol of Lord Ganesha, the god of auspicious beginnings.

Some 10 minutes away is Sawai Mansingh Stadium, where host Rajasthan Royals will indeed be looking forward to begin its campaign on a winning note in the 12th edition of the IPL as it takes on Kings XI Punjab on Monday.

Ajinkya Rahane’s men will be hoping history continues to favour them – they have never lost to the Kings at this venue. And they lead 10-7 head to head. 

Read: Kings XI to take advantage of Smith’s rustiness

The Royals had made it to the playoffs last year, and is looking even stronger now, with the return of Steve Smith -- who will be in focus after missing out last season following the ball-tampering controversy -- and the addition of fellow-Australian Ashton Turner. Neither of them will be available for the entire league though, because of national duty.

Nor will be the best performer of the Royal last year -- Jos Buttler, who has to return home to England, along with all-rounder Ben Stokes. So ideally, the home side would want to score as many wins as possible at the beginning of the season when the big stars available and then identify their replacements later on.

Buttler leads a strong batting line-up that includes skipper Rahane, Smith, Sanju Samson and Rahul Tripathi. Jaydev Unadkat, Varun Aaron, Oshane Thomas are part of a strong seam attack spearheaded by Stokes and Jofra Archer. K. Gowtham and Shreyas Gopal would be the main spinners.

They, however, pale in comparison to Punjab's spin attack featuring captain R. Ashwin, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and the new, uncapped mystery spinner Varun Chakaravarthy. In Andrew Tye, who wore the leading wicket-taker’s purple cap last year, all-rounder Sam Curran, Mohammed Shami and Ankit Rajpoot, the seam attack has quality, too. As for runs, the Kings will want the crack opening duo of Chris Gayle and K.L. Rahul to continue from where they left off last year.