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Rajasthan royally architect their own downfall in Ahmedabad

Last updated on 29 May 2022 | 11:45 PM
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Rajasthan royally architect their own downfall in Ahmedabad

We look at what led to RR fluffling the opportunity to win the IPL for the second time in their history

RR’s decision to bat first: not the wisest of movesHaving lost 13/16 tosses in the season, Rajasthan Royals skipper Sanju Samson called it right when it mattered, in the final. But while Samson did win the toss, it has to be said that the decision to bat first was questionable; there was all the incentive in the world for the Royals to chase. 

Rajasthan might have excelled batting first in the first half of the season, with each of their first six wins coming via defending totals, but this flipped come the second half. Prior to the final, each of the Royal’s previous four losses had come when they’d batted first. As a team, they simply seemed to struggle to post par totals in the second half, crossing the 180-run mark just once since posting 222 against the Capitals on April 22nd.

At the same time, they’d found comfort in chasing. Heading into the final, the Royals hadn’t lost a chase since April 14, going W W and W while batting second. One of those ‘Ws’ came in Qualifier 2 against Royal Challengers Bangalore, which incidentally was played at the same venue. 

This alone was reason enough for the Royals to chase, but RR had an even bigger incentive to bat second. Gujarat, in the 15 matches they’d played prior to the final, had a 7-1 record while chasing (87.5% win percentage) but struggled relatively whenever they batted first. Three of the Titans’ four losses in the group stages came when they batted first, and they crossed the 175-run mark only once in seven attempts. In the group stages, the Titans’ strike rate of 135.2 whilst batting first was the second-worst in the entire league.

By opting to chase, Samson and RR would have put the Titans’ batters in a slightly uncomfortable position, but instead, the 2008 winners gave the table toppers exactly what they wanted. Little wonder that Hardik Pandya, at the toss, had a mischievous grin on his face when he said ‘we would have bowled first’.

Perhaps the Royals ended up putting too much trust on the age-old ‘bat first and put runs on the board in a big game’ mantra. If only they’d remembered what Australia did in the UAE a year ago. 

Ravi Ashwin fails to bring the x-factor on the nightWhen you’re defending 131, nearly everything needs to go your way with the ball. The Royals’ bowlers did a fine job in the first 10 overs, restricting GT to 54/2, but with Yuzvendra Chahal having already exhausted 3 of his 4 overs, RR still needed Ravichandran Ashwin to be at his very best to pull off a heist. With the GT middle-order also boasting of two left-handers — Miller and Tewatia — Ashwin was Samson’s trump card in the second half of the chase.

Much to the dismay of Samson and Rajasthan, however, the veteran was nowhere near his best. In fact, on the night, Ashwin comfortably turned out to be the worst bowler across both sides.

Samson’s plan was to hold Ashwin back till a left-hander arrived at the crease, but the moment Pandya and Gill got through three overs of Chahal unscathed, the RR skipper had no option but to throw the ball to the off-spinner. Samson needed Ashwin to not just keep it tight, but to provide a breakthrough.

Ashwin, though, was all over the place with his lines and lengths. And despite being reluctant to attack by dangling the carrot, the 35-year-old ended up conceding 15 off his first over. It proved to be game-turning, for the required run rate ended up coming down to 6.75 from over 7.50.

The veteran got a chance to make amends in the 16th over — at which point RR were still in the game, with GT having lost Pandya and still needing 34 off 30 balls — and this time he had a left-hander to potentially bowl at. But after darting in the first two deliveries which were bowled to Gill — in which there was no intent to take a wicket — Ashwin got his line wrong in the very first ball he bowled to Miller. The South African needed no second invitation in the form he was in, and thumped the off-target off-break into the stands. That six ultimately proved to be the final nail in RR’s coffin. 

It was the batting — and not Ashwin — that cost RR the final, but on a night where Rashid Khan and Yuzvendra Chahal lived up to their hype, the veteran off-spinner failed to bring the x-factor when his side needed it the most. 

GT and RR’s showing under pressure: chalk and cheeseAfter being almost nerveless all season, it did seem like the occasion got to the Royals come the biggest stage. 

They say humans, in general, tend to mess up simple tasks (they’re good at) when being watched by other people. Because being observed makes a person try harder to do something; this in turn ends up making the person do that particular thing worse. 

On a night where they were being watched by more than 100,000 people, the Rajasthan players royally messed up regulation things they were nailing all through the season.

The costliest of mistakes, ultimately, proved to be Chahal’s drop. Rajasthan, in the very first over of the chase, had the opportunity to rattle Gujarat by sending Shubman Gill back to the hut, but Chahal ended up putting down a sitter that should have been taken all day of the week. Gill eventually ended up taking the Titans home by anchoring the chase.

But not just the Chahal drop, all through the game, RR made mistakes that rarely happened on the road to the final.

To begin with, Yashasvi Jaiswal, from ball one, looked like he was trying far too hard. The ‘see ball, hit ball’ Jaiswal was not present on the night; instead, it was a batter that wanted to blindly smash the living hell out of every single ball. That ultimately resulted in the southpaw’s downfall. 

Skipper Sanju Samson shanked a slot delivery that is bread and butter for him, while Jos Buttler, for the first time in the season, failed to register a fifty after getting beyond 35. The team’s No.4 Devdutt Padikkal, having done exceedingly well in the middle-order in the second half of the season, looked like he’d forgotten to bat. 

Meanwhile Riyan Parag, who prior to the final had hit a boundary every 5.3 balls whilst batting first, found the fence just once in 15 balls. Parag was unable to even put full-tosses away, and finished his innings without clearing the boundary rope even once. There was also a five-wides from Prasidh Krishna immediately after a Trent Boult maiden. 

In comparison, the big occasion seemed to bring out the best out of the Titans players, who brimmed with confidence and brought out their ‘A’ game.

Yash Dayal continued to impress and bowled his joint-most economical spell of the season. The young left-armer, just as he did in Qualifier 1, provided the crucial first breakthrough.

Rashid Khan did Rashid Khan things while Lockie Ferguson, returning to the side after being overlooked for Qualifier 1, bowled his best spell since the 14th of April. Ferguson’s inclusion did raise a few eyebrows, but the Kiwi speedster, on Sunday, married pace with accuracy to torment the Rajasthan batters. Ferguson was so in rhythm that he ended up bowling a delivery at 157.3 clicks.

Mohammed Shami bowled an outstanding 20th over to bounce back from an initial onslaught, while R Sai Kishore embraced the new role of being a death bowler.

Almost fittingly, the Titans’ best player on the night turned out to be their skipper Hardik Pandya, who led from the front with both bat and ball. Pandya’s 34 with the bat did not come as a surprise, but just about no one expected the GT skipper to wreak havoc with the ball to the extent he did. 

Pandya introduced himself into the attack in the ninth over, and only casually ended up obliterating the nucleus of RR’s batting by removing the holy trio of Buttler, Samson and Hetmyer. Heading into the final, Pandya had not bowled his full quota of four overs since GT’s fourth match of the season on April 11th. On the night, the Titans skipper not just completed his quota of overs, but bowled arguably the best spell of his T20 career.

Lady luck has been on Gujarat’s side, true, but no team goes all the way by accident. Much like Real Madrid, the reason the Titans have been crowned champions is because they turned out to be clutch when it mattered. 

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