Rajasthan Royals players Steve Smith and Ben Stokes
Rajasthan Royals players Steve Smith and Ben Stokes during a press conference as they unveil the new team jersey ahead of IPL 2019, in Jaipur, Friday, March 22, 2019. Image Credit: PTI

Jaipur: Boosted by the return of Steve Smith, Rajasthan Royals (RR) will take on Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) in their Indian Premier League (IPL) opener at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, here on Monday.

The Royals, which made a comeback to the league in 2018 after serving a two-year ban over spot-fixing and betting charges, had advanced to the play-offs last season but could not go further. The Ajinkya Rahane-led side will definitely aim to start the season 12 on a positive note.

Punjab, which could not reach the play-offs last year, are expected to perform on a different note this year after retaining, as well as pocketing, some valuable players in the auction.

Royals, which missed the services of Smith who was involved in the ball tempering incident in South Africa, seem confident of making their 2018 campaign go big. The team, which had won the inaugural edition of the lucrative league in 2008, will look forward to a repeat of 2018 show by Jos Buttler who amassed 548 runs from 13 games at an average of 54.80 and an impressive strike rate of 155.24.

A lot is expected from Smith. But it is yet to be known whether the Australian will make to the playing eleven or not as he has not fully recovered from an elbow injury.

Overall, Ben Stokes will once again be the go-to man for the Royals who has the ability to fire both with the bat and the ball.

While Krishnappa Gowtham and Shreyas Gopal would lead the spin attack, pacers Dhawal Kulkarni and Jaydev Unadkat alongwith Jofra Archer, the pace department.

Archer who can also be handy with the bat scalped 15 wickets at an average of 21.6 in the last season and the team management will surely expect the Sussex player to replicate the 2018 show.

On the other hand, Punjab started the last season on a roaring note with five wins in six matches before succumbing in the business end of the league.

Punjab boasts of self-proclaimed universal boss - Chris Gayle. The Caribbean had a relatively poor season last year. But he can never be discounted in the shortest format of cricket.

Gayle is likely to open innings for Punjab with KL Rahul, and the two has the ability to fire right from the word 'go'. Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair and Mandeep Singh will add depth to Punjab's batting in the middle-order.

Australian all-rounder Moises Henriques, West Indian Nicholas Pooran and South African David Miller are the other players who can single handedly take Punjab to victory.

Coming to the bowling department, Punjab have experienced Mohammed Shami, Ankit Rajput and Andrew Tye in their camp, beside a variety of spinners like skipper Ravichandran Ashwin and Mujeeb UR Rahman.

If given a chance in the playing eleven, Varun Chakravarthy will be the spinner to look at. The mystery spinner, bagged by Punjab for a whopping Rs 8.4 crore, has six variations in his kitty: off-break, leg-break, flipper, top-spinner, carrom ball and the googly.

Overall, another exciting contest is on the cards for fans as some great names of T20 will be up against each other.

Squads:

Kings XI Punjab (KXIP): KL Rahul, Chris Gayle, Andrew Tye, Mayank Agarwal, Ankit Rajpoot, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Karun Nair, David Miller and Ravichandran Ashwin (captain), Moises Henriques, Nicholas Pooran, Varun Chakravarthy, Sam Curran, Mohammad Shami, Sarfaraz Khan, Hardus Viljoen, Arshdeep Singh, Darshan Nalkande, Prabhsimran Singh, Agnivesh Ayachi, Harpreet Brar, and Murugan Ashwin

Rajasthan Royals (RR): Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Krishnappa Gowtham, Sanju Samson, Shreyas Gopal, Aryaman Birla, S. Midhun, Prashant Chopra, Stuart Binny, Rahul Tripathi, Ben Stokes, Steve Smith, Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer, Ish Sodhi, Dhawal Kulkarni, Mahipal Lomror, Jaydev Unadkat, Varun Aaron, Oshane Thomas, Shashank Singh, Liam Livinstone, Shubham Rajane, Manan Vohra, Ashton Turner, Riyan Parag