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IPL 2023 Preview: Rahul’s ‘strike rate’ could make or break LSG’s campaign

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Last updated on 25 Mar 2023 | 04:02 AM
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IPL 2023 Preview: Rahul’s ‘strike rate’ could make or break LSG’s campaign

Lucknow might have the most-balanced XI but one thing we have learned from the last 15 seasons is that IPL is not won on paper

“Give me three good all-rounders and a couple of intent-machines at the top, I will win you a title.”

This probably would have been Bronn’s first quote if he was asked to coach a franchise in the Indian Premier League. You look at Lucknow Super Giants’ squad and you would feel they have all the ingredients to succeed but only if their head coach Andy Flower and mentor Gautam Gambhir transform themselves into Ser Bronn of the Blackwater.

Bronn was a cut-throat who would do anything to win, and for LSG to become a serious contender, Gambhir and Flower will have to kill the “strike-rate-is-very-overrated” version of KL Rahul and ask him to go back into the 2018 mode. This might sound a bit extreme but Lucknow would benefit more if Rahul doesn’t go around chasing the Orange Cap.

Hardik Pandya’s Gujarat Titans hogged the limelight last season but Lucknow themselves did extremely well for a newcomer. Winning nine of their 14 league games, the Super Giants made it through to the knockouts but alas lost to Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Eliminator.  

Going into the 2023 auction, Lucknow already had a settled unit but the inclusions of Nicholas Pooran and Naveen-ul-Haq have made them much stronger. Lucknow might even go on to have the most-balanced XI, at least on paper. But one thing we have learned from the last 15 seasons is that IPL is not won on paper.

Squad depth

Have they plugged the gap?

Lucknow and Pooran seem like a match made in heaven. Last season, the Super Giants tried six different batters at No. 3 and Deepak Hooda was the only one who did well at that position. With Rahul and Quinton de Kock at the top, the presence of Pooran and Hooda will allow LSG to dominate match-ups. Plus, the left-hander from West Indies averages 31.06 and strikes at 149.47 in the middle overs. Amongst batters who have at least 500 runs in this phase, his strike rate is the sixth-best in the history of the tournament.

The LSG batters struggled particularly against spin but Pooran’s average of 37.9 and strike rate of 151 could help them dominate that phase. The combination of Deepak Hooda (average 48.5 and strike rate 139.57 vs spin in IPL 2022) and Pooran could do wonders for the franchise, especially with one being a right-hander and the other being a left-hander.

One another area where Lucknow struggled big time last season was their death bowling. LSG had the worst economy rate (11.1) and balls/boundary (4) in the last five overs, with Mohsin Khan (8.6) being the only bowler with an economy of less than 10.5. So, have they done anything to plug that gap? Not exactly, but they have tried.

LSG got Daniel Sams and Romario Shepherd in the auction but they can’t be quite trusted to bowl those crucial overs. However, their other addition, Naveen-ul-Haq could make a difference, with his variations. The Afghanistan seamer has taken almost half of his total T20 wickets since 2022 at the death.

Naveen is still unproven at the IPL level, while Mark Wood has never been an established name when it comes to death bowling. The tearaway quick from England, who missed the entire last season, could be a game-changer in the middle overs but the same can’t be said about his death bowling. Hence, Avesh Khan’s form becomes extremely crucial for LSG. 

Playing for Delhi Capitals in IPL 2021, the right-armer took 12 wickets at an economy of 8.7 and a strike rate of 13.5 in the death overs. However, he only managed five wickets in that phase in IPL 2022 and also leaked runs at an economy of 10.9. The 26-year-old is no longer part of the Indian set-up and Lucknow would want their premier pacer to make his presence felt in IPL 2023, which would help both him and the franchise.

One thing that they need to work out

Mohsin would have played for India by now if not for his shoulder injury. The left-arm paceman was the find of the IPL 2022 and there were also talks about including him in the Indian T20I set-up prior to the last T20 World Cup. In his maiden IPL season, he claimed 14 wickets in nine encounters at an unbelievable economy of 5.97 and a strike rate of 14.14.

An economy of 5.3 in the powerplay, 4.9 in the middle overs and 8.6 in the death overs, Mohsin was brilliant across all three phases. The 24-year-old, who underwent a shoulder surgery in October last year, is yet to resume bowling and could even miss the majority of the season. Mohsin’s absence won’t just put extra pressure on Avesh and Wood but Lucknow would now want one of Jaydev Unadkat or Yash Thakur to step up. 

It all depends on what LSG want. Unadkat has the experience, while Thakur is young and exciting. The former has been around for a while and we all know what we are going to get from him. The 31-year-old is a superb red-ball bowler but his numbers in the last five seasons of IPL isn't impressive at all - 35 wickets in 44 innings at an average of 42 and an economy rate of 9.6.

Unadkat is not your all-phase bowler, something that Mohsin is. That’s where LSG can take a punt on young Thakur. The 24-year-old has 55 wickets in 37 T20s at an average of 14.40 and an economy of 6.68. The right-arm seamer has been consistent across all three phases for Vidarbha but doing it in the IPL is going to be extremely difficult. Lucknow don’t have too many options when it comes to Indian seamers and would desperately need one of these two to fire. If one of these two doesn’t succeed, LSG could find themselves in big trouble.

What will win them the title?

How Rahul goes about his business with the bat could decide Lucknow’s fate in IPL 2023. The right-hander from Karnataka has averaged above 50 in every season since 2018 and amassed over 600 runs in each edition except 2019, in which he missed out by just seven runs. The runs have never stopped coming but it’s his approach that has been questionable in the last four years.

Rahul operated at a strike rate of 157.6 in the powerplay in 2018 but that number has dropped to 116.5 in the last four years. In fact, Rahul (103.6) had the worst strike rate amongst batters who scored at least 150 runs in the powerplay last season. The good thing is that strike rate went up to 147.03 in the middle and 190.54 in the death overs, but even that doesn’t justify his approach in the first six overs. 

Rahul will have de Kock, Hooda and Pooran batting around him and all of them don’t mind starting on fifth gear. The least Rahul could do is operate at 130-135 in the powerplay and take it on from there. We all know strike rate is not overrated, and the sooner Rahul understands that, the better it will be for Lucknow. The 2018 version of Rahul won’t just help LSG win the title but could also get him back into the Indian T20I set-up.

MVP - Nicholas Pooran.

Predicted XI

Home and away

The plethora of all-rounders will allow Lucknow to go with the same XI in most of their home and away matches. Four bowling options (three spin and one pace) and three left-handers in the top-seven, Lucknow could also simply play around with their Impact Player depending on the match scenarios and conditions.   

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