Hyderabad, May 16 (IANS) The spot-fixing scandal which rocked the Indian Premier League (IPL) with the arrest of three Rajasthan Royals players will overshadow their last league match against Sunrisers Hyderabad here Friday.
Though already assured of a place in the play-offs with 20 points from 15 matches, the visitors' morale will be low when they face Sunrisers at the Rajiv Gandhi international stadium in the crucial tie.
The arrests of S. Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila for alleged spot-fixing has come as a huge blow to the Royals, who have had a fantastic tournament so far this season winning all eight home matches.
In fact the arrests by Delhi police in Mumbai late Wednesday night came hours after Royals suffered a 14-run defeat at the hands of Mumbai Indians. It was the team's first loss after four consecutive victories.
However, as the arrested players have not had an impressive tournament so far, their absence may not have much impact on the team.
Of the three, only Ankeet Chavan played the match against Mumbai last night. It was only his third match this season, claiming only a wicket.
Sreesanth claimed five wickets in seven matches, the last being against Kings XI at Mohali May 9. Ajit Chandila has taken six wickets in eight matches.
The 29-year-old's last appearance for the team was also against Kings XI at Mohali.
Scandal apart, it is expected to be a good contest between Royals, who would be looking to put behind the spot-fixing and finish the league stage on a winning note and bag two crucial points to stay in the hunt for top or second position.
Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings both have 22 points each but the former tops the table thanks to their better net run rate.
Sunrisers, who also had an impressive show at home winning five out of six matches, will be keen to take advantage of the problems the visitors face and keep their hopes alive for a berth in the playoffs.
The home team is currently in fifth position with 16 points from 14 matches. Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) are in fourth place with equal points but a better run rate.
A win here will help Sunrisers surpass RCB and another victory against Kolkatta Knight Riders Sunday will assure them a playoff berth even if RCB win their last tie against Chennai Super Kings Saturday.
Sunrisers will have a better chance in view of their good home record but also not so impressive performance of Royals in away matches. The visitors have won only two out of their seven away matches.
The home side, however, will be cautious as it lost its previous game here to CSK by a huge margin. After five consecutive wins on a slow track, the hosts suffered a 77-run defeat after CSK set a huge target of 224 on a good batting pitch.
It will be interesting to see if Sunrisers get another track which will suit their bowlers. The team will once again be relying on its bowlers especially Dale Steyn, Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra and Karan Sharma. Darren Sammy and Thisara Perera have also proved match-winners this season.
Aggressive opener Shikhar Dhawan is again expected to lead the batting attack. The Hyderabad side will hope for good contributions again from local boy Hanuma Vihari, Cameron White, Darren Sammy and Thisara Perera.
A keen contest is likely between Dale Steyn, one of the best bowlers in the world, and Shane Watson, who has played some amazing knocks this season.
With 502 runs in 13 matches at an average of 45.63, the Australian with Ajankiya Rahane (439 runs in 15 matches) and captain Rahul Dravid (391 in 15) are the backbone of Royals' batting.
All-rounder Stuart Binny has also proved his mettle with five 30s. Brad Hodge and new find Sanju Samson will be the other key batsmen.
Royals' bowling attack will be led by James Faulkner, one of the leading wicket takers this season with 21 wickets in 13 matches. Kevon Cooper, who scalped 17 in 11 matches, will be another key bowler along with Shane Watson.