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RCB bank on home advantage in bid to stay alive



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For the first time this season, Royal Challengers Bangalore have picked up wins in successive matches, both away from home. Now with their campaign on the line, they return to home comforts to take on table-toppers Sunrisers Hyderabad. Irrespective of how other results pan out, wins in both their matches is non-negotiable for RCB, although mathematical possibilities could see them miraculously enter the playoffs even with just one win. That’s a route they wouldn’t want to take, however.

Each of their three recent wins, against Mumbai Indians, Delhi Daredevils and Kings XI Punjab, have been a result of stupendous bowling performances, led superbly by Umesh Yadav. Four of their wins overall have come while chasing, with either AB de Villiers making a half-century or Virat Kohli steering them through. Now against the best bowling attack of the tournament, they will need more players to up their game.

RCB concede 12.17 per over in the death overs, the highest by a team this season. Their ability to chase notwithstanding, a strong finish with the ball is mandatory, if they are to chase, against an attack that has a history of defending small targets. Sunrisers are already assured of a top-two finish. This means they could look at giving a few of their back-up players an opportunity without hampering the team’s balance. It’s also as good an opportunity as any for the misfiring Manish Pandey to hit form at the ground he calls home.

In the news

Wriddhiman Saha is recovering from a shoulder injury and should slot back in if the team management deems his recovery satisfactory. This could mean a return to the bench for Shreevats Goswami.

Previous meeting

Sunrisers’ bowling might came to their rescue. They huffed and puffed to 146 after losing 7 for 34, but outstanding death bowling – they gave away just 19 off their last three overs – helped pull off a coup, with RCB falling five short.

Likely XIs

Royal Challengers Bangalore 1 Virat Kohli (capt), 2 Parthiv Patel (wk), 3 Moeen Ali, 4 AB de Villiers, 5 Mandeep Singh, 6 Sarfaraz Khan, 7 Colin de Grandhomme, 8 Tim Southee, 9 Umesh Yadav, 10 Mohammed Siraj, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal

Sunrisers Hyderabad 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Alex Hales, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Manish Pandey, 5 Deepak Hooda, 6 Shakib Al Hasan, 7 Shreevats Goswami/Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Siddarth Kaul, 11 Sandeep Sharma

Strategic punt

  • Kohli has scored 30 or more in four out of five RCB wins this season. Against Sunrisers, he’s made 473 at 59.1 and a strike rate of 145.1, so getting him out early is paramount. If you’re Sunrisers, your two best men for the job are Rashid Khan and Sandeep Sharma. The RCB captain has stuttered against legspin this season, managing just 75 runs from 65 balls and losing his wicket three times in eight innings. And while he has had his share of success against Sandeep, whom he has slapped for 56 runs in 33 balls, Kohli has fallen to him five times in eight innings.

  • RCB can look to counter the Alex Hales threat by bringing on his England teammate Moeen Ali. Hales has scored at a run a ball off the 17 balls he has faced from Moeen and perished to him twice in three innings. Hales, in fact, has struggled against all kinds of spin bowlers this season. He has 22 runs off the 31 balls he has faced from them and perished to them twice in three innings.

Stats that matter

  • RCB have won three of the last five meetings between these two sides at this venue. And the players to have won it for them (no prizes for guessing): de Villiers twice and Kohli once.

  • Since Sunrisers came into existence, RCB have never held a superior head-to-head record against them. While they were even in the first three seasons with one victory each, Sunrisers have bettered RCB in each of the last three seasons: 2-1 in 2016, and 1-0 in 2017 and 2018.

  • De Villiers feasts on this Sunrisers bowling attack. None of Sunrisers’ main bowlers has a favourable record against de Villiers. Overall, he has plundered 380 runs off the 219 balls he has faced from them, averaging 42.2 and striking at 173.5.

  • Several big names are approaching important milestones. Kohli needs 68 runs to notch up 5000 career IPL runs, while Shikhar Dhawan is 70 away from 4000 and Kane Williamson needs 45 to hit 1000.

Fantasy pick

Dhawan is one of the reasons Sunrisers haven’t felt the absence of David Warner. He is their second-highest run-scorer and is now riding on successive half-centuries. Moreover, his record at the Chinnaswamy makes him a favourable pick: 246 runs in eight T20 innings at an average of 49.2 and a best of 73 not out.

Sandeep has had an outstanding IPL. His economy rate of 5.83 is the best this season and goes alongside eight wickets at 22.62. A proven, consistent performer who doesn’t really eat into your purse. What else do you need?

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Williamson hails Sunrisers’ hard scrap



Two nights after being pipped by a late Faf du Plessis onslaught that cost them a four-day break and a direct entry into the final, Sunrisers Hyderabad did it the hard way at Eden Gardens. They snapped a four-match losing streak by beating Kolkata Knight Riders by 14 runs to enter their second IPL final and have another crack at Chennai Super Kings, who they are yet to beat in three attempts this season.

“It was a great fighting effort from the lads,” Sunrisers captain Kane Williamson told Star Sports. “The game ebbed and flowed. Kolkata are an outstanding side, they deserved to be here and the game could have gone either way, but it’s nice it fell our way in some crunch moments. Credit to the way the boys finished off the first innings to get a very competitive total. The game was slipping away at the start of the chase, but we knew if we held strong and picked wickets through the middle, we could squeeze. We’ve now got another game of cricket left.”

After being asked to bat, Sunrisers were struggling at 134 for 6 in the 18th over. Rashid Khan, however, smashed an unbeaten 34 off 10 balls to lift the total to 174 for 7. He then claimed 3 for 19 with the ball, including the key wickets of Chris Lynn and Andre Russell. In addition, he effected the run-out of Nitish Rana, who was promoted to No.3 to counter the legspinner’s left-handedness. Rashid capped the night with two catches in the last over.

“He (Rashid) was brilliant but he’s got another game, so we’re going to keep him wrapped up,” Williamson said. “The final is our focus now. As a team, we fight until the very last ball and we showed that today. It’s a real team effort. Rashid was certainly the Man of the Match and he was brilliant, but a lot of guys chipped in. It’s a great fighting effort, which is the attitude we want to see from Sunrisers.”

Sunrisers had made three changes coming into this knockout bout. They left out Manish Pandey, their costliest signing at USD 1.6 million (approx) INR 11 crores, after he had managed only 284 runs in 13 innings. at a strike rate of 115.44. Instead, they backed Deepak Hooda in the middle order and recalled a fit-again Wriddhiman Saha in place of Shreevats Goswami. Williamson underlined the importance of balance without losing experience as a key reason for the move.

“The thing we didn’t change was our balance [despite the changes], he said. “We did make some adjustments because we had injuries obviously. Saha was injured, but he came back and it was nice to have his experience. [Shreevats] Goswami contributed well, got some exposure, but for us to have that experience in the final was a big thing. Every one of those guys in the squad have played a huge part, whether it’s on the field or carrying drinks. It’s been a huge collective effort, but we still have another game of cricket left.”

Shakib Al Hasan, now into his third IPL final and his first with Sunrisers in his debut season, gave a peek into the spirit in the team. Williamson also touched upon it as he spoke of Carlos Brathwaite. The West Indies allrounder had conceded 20 runs off the 18th over against CSK, but Williamson still backed him to defend 18 runs off the final over at the same venue, where he had hit Ben Stokes for four sixes to deliver West Indies’ second World T20 title two years ago.

Brathwaite took the wickets of the well-set Shubman Gill and Shivam Mavi to close out the game. “Carlos will be happy because he might have thought he was responsible for the loss against CSK, even though he really wasn’t, and might have taken it personally,” Shakib said. “The way he came back today was terrific.”

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SLC to support investigation into pitch-fixing allegations



Sri Lanka Cricket will cooperate fully with the ICC in its investigations into allegations of pitch-fixing in two Test matches in the past, and potentially one later this year against England.

The board’s response came after TV news channel Al Jazeera claimed that a person involved in preparing the pitches in Galle for the Tests against India in 2017 and Australia in 2016 had tailored the surfaces according to instructions from a person involved in betting. The report also alleged that the Galle pitch for the Test against England later this year would also be made to order for betting.

“Mr Ashley de Silva, CEO of Sri Lanka Cricket is in contact with the CEO of the International Cricket Council Mr. David Richardson and the ICC Anti-Corruption Unit on the matter,” SLC said. “Sri Lanka Cricket wishes to state that it has zero tolerance towards corruption and will take immediate action against any person involved in the alleged incident, if found guilty.

“In the meantime, Sri Lanka Cricket is constantly engaged with the ICC and is following its guidelines on how to handle anti-corruption operations for the forthcoming tours in Sri Lanka.”

The ICC confirmed it was investigating the report. “The ICC is aware of an investigation into corruption in cricket by a news organisation and as you would expect we will take the contents of the programme and any allegations it may make very seriously,” Alex Marshall, ICC general manager Anti-Corruption Unit, said in a statement. “We have already launched an investigation working with anti-corruption colleagues from Member countries based on the limited information we have received. We have made repeated requests that all evidence and supporting materials relating to corruption in cricket is released immediately to enable us to undertake a full and comprehensive investigation.”

According to another head curator in Sri Lanka, however, the individual mentioned in the Al Jazeera report is not a curator, but someone in charge of the temporary staff working at the Galle stadium and was not in charge of either of the two Test pitches specified in the report.

The Al Jazeera report claimed that the individual – under instructions from the bettors – had made a batting-friendly surface for the India Test and a spin-friendly one for the Australia Test, but ESPNcricinfo can confirm the Sri Lanka team had in fact requested the actual curator for such surfaces. Additionally, Galle surfaces have often tended to be very spin-friendly, and are routinely result-oriented pitches, the last draw there having come in 2013.

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Hasan Raza caught on camera in alleged spot-fixing sting



Former Pakistan batsman Hasan Raza has been filmed on camera by news channel Al Jazeera in the same room as another former cricketer – Robin Morris from Mumbai – talks about facilitating spot-fixing in T20 tournaments.

Raza does not participate in the conversation between Morris and the undercover reporter, but is seated in the chair adjacent to Morris. Raza and Morris both played for Mumbai Champs, a team in the now-defunct Indian Cricket League between 2007-08.

Al Jazeera said Hasan Raza did not respond to its allegations, while Morris “denies any wrongdoing” and said the channel invited him “to audition for, and act in, a commercial movie ‘for public entertainment’.”

In the video, part of a broader investigative documentary the channel will air from Sunday, Morris talks about setting up a T20 tournament for the purposes of spot-fixing and betting. He says that no A-grade players will be involved, but that he can bring in B, C, and D grade players. He talks of taking such tournaments from Dubai, to Hong Kong, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka.

In another location, poolside at a hotel, a person identified by Al Jazeera as Gaurav Rajkumar is seen and heard talking about organising a four-team T20 tournament in the UAE. Morris is also present during this conversation and later details how much money a corrupt player stands to make by facilitating spot-fixing in such tournaments.

Al Jazeera said Rajkumar also claimed the channel invited him to act in a movie for public entertainment.

The videos were released on the same day that Al Jazeera also alleged that a person involved in the preparation of pitches in Galle, Sri Lanka, for the Tests against India in 2017 and Australia in 2016 had tailored the surfaces according to instructions from a person involved in betting. The report also alleged that the Galle pitch for the Test against England later this year would also be made to order for betting.

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