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IPL Qualifier 1 – Royal Rumble in Kolkata

Cricket article at Knup Sports

The 2022 IPL finals kick off tomorrow with a top-of-the-table clash between the Gujarat Titans and Rajasthan Royals. Below are our picks of what to watch for in the first of four deciding matches this week.

In six days time, the world’s greatest T20 tournament will crown a champion.

Four teams remain in contention, and four games lie between now and the 29th of May, when one team will lift the IPL 2022 trophy. However, by the end of tomorrow evening, cricket fans will have a much clearer picture of how the finals race is shaping up, as debutants Gujarat Titans take on old-hands Rajasthan Royals in a top of the table clash.

It’s been 14 years since the Royals last held the IPL’s silverware, while the Titans, led in their inaugural season by captain Hardik Pandya, are hoping to taste such victory for the first time. Yet, these are the two form teams of the season, with Gujarat having won 10/14 matches in their debut season and the Royals only one behind on nine wins.

Here are three critical factors that we believe will influence the outcome of this blockbuster match on Tuesday evening:

The Form of Jos Buttler

No other player has scored more runs than Jos Buttler this season, with the Englishman holding the orange cap at 629 runs for the season.

However, it’s been the better part of a month since Jos really fired–his last three innings have been 2, 7, and 7. For a man that holds three centuries and three half-centuries in this IPL alone, that’s a surprising slump in form. Despite it not impacting the Royals ability to claim a top-two finish, Buttler is well overdue for another big score.

The reality is if Buttler gets going against Gujarat on Tuesday, little else matters. He’s the kind of player that takes a game away from the opposition in a matter of overs. In fact, in each of the three games, Jos Buttler scored a century, and the Rajasthan Royals have won comfortably. Forget battling first or who plays spin better–Buttler firing on all cylinders essentially equals a win for the team in blue.

You heard it here first: Butler’s return to form (or not) is the decisive factor in this match.

Middle Over Arm-Wrestle

Rajasthan may possess a brutal power-play batter like Buttler, but over the course of 2022, most IPL matches have been won or lost in the middle overs.

In this section of the game, it all comes down to the magic of Rashid Khan versus that of Ravichandran Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal. Which of these spin wizards can turn on the pressure and go for less than a run a ball in overs 7-15, putting on the squeeze in those latter overs? Past performance would say Gujarat’s Rashid Khan has the upper hand, particularly given his success against Jos Buttler–four dismissals in seven innings, at a strike rate of 60.

Chahal and Ashwin, however, have been consistently economical this season. Look for the Royals to save a few overs from these maestros for when the lethal David Miller bats–together, they’ve dismissed the South African five times, a match-up which could be crucial as the Titans look to accelerate in the middle overs of this final.

Scoreboard Pressure, or Chase to W in?

This week marks a change in tempo of the IPL 2022, which also comes with a change in venue.

While the limited number of stadiums used in this year’s format has allowed teams to become familiar with the playing conditions of each venue, that all goes out the door on Tuesday evening. Kolkata is yet to host an IPL match this season, so both teams are in the dark about how the pitch will play out on the night.

When chasing, the Gujarat Titans have succeeded six out of seven times this season. Based on this statistic, it would be a safe bet for the Titans to stick with this winning formula, should they win the toss. However, finals cricket is a completely different story–we all know you can’t beat runs on the board in a final. In many ways, it’s a toss that each captain probably won’t mind losing.

Regardless of who bats first, how the middle overs pan out, and the form of Jos Buttler, come the end of Tuesday evening, it’s safe to say the winning team will feel like they have one hand on the trophy.

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