Let’s agree on one thing - Rajasthan Royals are in a complete mess at the moment. From top to bottom, there’s nothing you’d be happy reviewing as a step in the right direction ever since they landed in the Middle East. Batters have gone dormant, the young Indian forces are on a roller-coaster while the foreign picks are veering two spectrums with a little outcome. Doing an assessment of their fortune is sure to drag you back a little bit even if you don’t want to but then they are Rajasthan Royals - the tournament’s perennial underachiever. Even at the best of times.
With four wins from 11 games, the Jaipur-based franchise have reduced from a genuine playoffs contender to the second last team on the points table. They have only three games left in the season and can get to a maximum of 14 points, with Criclytics Qualification Probability Model holding them to a mere 4% chance of making it to the last four. While looking at the options, it is inevitable that we draw a line and that’s where Rajasthan’s abject failure in managing the situations becomes clear in hindsight.
Despite losing the likes of Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer, and Ben Stokes for multiple reasons, the Royals looked set on their path of dominance with the kind of resources they signed later on for the UAE leg. The likes of Evin Lewis, Glenn Phillips, and Tabraiz Shamsi, who joined as replacements, would be happily snapped up by any franchise at any given opportunity in their current form yet the Royals have hardly used them in a proper fashion.
"We always keep things simple. There's a lot of pressure on players that they put on themselves; in the game itself there's a lot of it,” Kumar Sangakkara, RR’s Director of Cricket, said after the loss to Royal Challengers Bangalore. “My job is not to add to that but help them deal with it and come up with their best performances. There're many ways in which you manage the highs of wins and disappointments of a loss and be able to keep yourself calm and focus on what needs to be done. At times like this, it's very easy to be dejected and break up into little groups where murmurings can start but our group has held together really well.”
This calls for deeper examination. Just before coming to the tournament, Livingstone was the highest run-scorer in the Men’s Hundred competition with 348 runs at an average of 58.00 and an SR of 178.46. The next highest run-scorer in the tournament, Ben Duckett, with 232 runs, had 116 runs less than the Lancashire batter.
If the Pakistan series, in which he scored a record-breaking 42-ball hundred, gave the indication of his bright future, the IPL was supposed to cement it. However, all he got was inconsistent treatment from the franchise, who are unsure of where to slot him. Of course, there could be flexibility and Livingstone is also to be blamed for that, but there could be no denying the fact that the muddled nature of the franchise has played a part in it as well. It is reflected in the side’s overall performance.
Batting-wise, they suffered monumental collapses. Barring Sanju Samson, who is enjoying his best IPL season to date, none has really stamped forward consistently. In the last game against SRH, the Royals looked well set to post 180 but they scored just 11 runs in the final two overs, which was the deciding factor in RR losing the game. This has been a pattern for them this season: RR have the highest RR (10.6) in Overs 16-18 but have the 3rd lowest RR (9.9) among teams in the final two overs in IPL 2021. The likes of Tewatia and Parag have played 8 innings each, the most among RR lower-middle order batters but haven’t created any sort of impact with the bat this season.
Kartik Tyagi and Mustafizur Rahman deserve all the applause for the way they managed to bring the Royals back in the Punjab Kings game for an epic last over victory, but it must be noted that in the IPL 2021, RR have picked up a wicket every 25 deliveries in the middle overs (7-15), which is the worst by any team this season. The way Srikar Bharat and Glenn Maxwell proceeded with their approach without a single wicket-taking opportunity created by the opposition told you a story in itself.
Perhaps Sangakkara’s closing statement in the post-match press conference is an apt summary of where they stand at the moment. “We've been good with our batting at times, good with bowling, but haven't been able to put up a cohesive performance. That's what we're searching for.” Perhaps, a little more semblance too. Because all is still not lost at the moment.