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Rajasthan Royals, and the art of defending totals

Last updated on 10 Apr 2022 | 07:40 PM
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Rajasthan Royals, and the art of defending totals

Out of 20 games played so far, only seven times a team batting second has won and three of those belong to Sanju Samson’s men

Imagine winning three of your first four games of the season. Impressive, isn’t it?! 

Now, what if we tell you those three wins have come despite losing the toss on all four occasions? That’s actually beyond impressive.

And, that’s exactly what Rajasthan Royals have done in the ongoing edition of the Indian Premier League. 

Lucknow Super Giants’ powerful all-rounder Marcus Stoinis almost snatched victory from the jaws of defeat but debutant Kuldeep Sen displayed nerves of steel in the final over and propelled Rajasthan to a superb three-run victory at the Wankhede Stadium on Sunday (April 10). Playing his first game of the season, Stoinis went berserk in the final three overs but couldn’t score 15 off the last six deliveries. The Royals are now at the top of the points table.

Out of 20 matches played so far this season, only seven times a team batting second has ended up on the right side of the result and three of those wins belong to Sanju Samson’s men. They hammered Sunrisers Hyderabad by 61 runs and then got the better of five-time champions Mumbai Indians by 23 runs. Rajasthan would have been four in four but were undone by Shahbaz Ahmed and Dinesh Karthik against Royal Challengers Bangalore. However, Yuzvendra Chahal and Co. got the job done against Lucknow and ended their three-match winning streak. 

So, why have Rajasthan been able to win consistently despite batting first? Well, let’s try to find out.

Start like Buttler, end like Hetmyer

Skipper Samson and Devdutt Padikkal have played a couple of decent knocks but it’s largely been Jos Buttler and Shimron Hetmyer who have been phenomenal for Rajasthan in the batting department. While Buttler has consistently been scoring runs at the top-order, Hetmyer has mastered the art of finishing the innings. The former didn’t fire against Lucknow but the left-hander from West Indies was once again at his brutal best tonight.

Having managed scores of 32 off 13, 35 off 14 and 42* off 31 in his previous three games, Hetmyer smacked six sixes in his 36-ball 59* and propelled Rajasthan to a competitive total of 165/6 after they were struggling at 115/4 at the end of 17 overs. The 25-year-old helped Rajasthan accumulate 50 runs in the final three overs and that changed the momentum of the game. In the first innings, Rajasthan (12.8) have the second-best scoring rate in the last five overs and that’s largely because of Hetmyer. 

139 of his 168 runs have come at the death, where he has operated at a strike rate of 235.6. Amongst batters who have scored at least 30 runs in this phase, Hetmyer has the third-best strike rate in this season. Then there is Buttler, who is currently the leading run-getter in the competition. He has 218 runs in four innings at an average of 72.66 and a strike rate of 141.55. RR's first-innings totals read 210/6, 193/8, 169/3 and 165/6, but the credit for the win against Lucknow should actually go to their bowling unit. 

Chahal’s “purple” patch continues

The Rajasthan bowlers have the second-best economy rate (8.3), average (22.6) and balls/wicket (16.4) despite bowling second in every game, where the dew plays a massive role. Those numbers even get better in the powerplay, thanks to pacers Trent Boult and Prasidh Krishna who have constantly provided RR early breakthroughs. The two reduced SRH to 21/3 before the end of the powerplay and the Orange Army could never recover from that. They got two early wickets against Mumbai too but couldn’t do the same against Bangalore, which probably cost them the game.

Tonight, Lucknow were not chasing a big total but Boult dismissed LSG captain KL Rahul and Krishnappa Gowtham before Krishna got rid of Jason Holder in the fourth over to put Rajasthan in a solid position. If these two have been doing the damage in the first six overs, Chahal has been getting the job done in the remaining two phases. The ace legspinner currently owns the Purple Cap, and has taken more wickets than anyone in the death overs (6 at an economy of 6.6). 

On Sunday, Chahal outfoxed Quinton de Kock, Ayush Badoni, Krunal Pandya and Dushmantha Chameera and returned with figures of 4/41. This is what Rajasthan have done so well in this tournament. They have constantly been able to take wickets, but would be slightly worried about their death bowling. They allowed RCB to score 82 runs in the last seven overs despite having them five down. Even tonight, Stoinis almost ended up getting the required 49 runs in the last three overs. Krishna and Boult are superb with the new ball but could get a tonking later in the innings. And, the onus is now likely going to be on young Kuldeep Sen to bowl those tough overs at the end. For now, at least for a day, Samson and his men could enjoy the view from the top. 


Gowtham getting some game-time

The spin-bowling all-rounder from Karnataka was impressive for Rajasthan in 2018 - his maiden IPL season - but featured in only nine encounters in the next three editions. He claimed 11 wickets in 15 matches at an economy of 7.8, and on top of that, the right-handed dasher also smoked 126 runs in 13 innings at a phenomenal strike rate of 196.9. There were some match-winning cameos - 33 off 11 vs Mumbai, 13 off 4 vs Chennai Super Kings and Bangalore - and it looked like Gowtham had arrived on the big stage.

That should have been the start of something special, but it wasn’t. Gowtham only played seven games in 2019 and could only pick up two wickets at an economy of 8.3. Prior to the next edition, he was traded to Punjab Kings (then Kings XI Punjab) but that didn't change his luck. Gowtham played only two matches and leaked runs at an economy of 10.5. Then came the 2021 auction and Chennai paid a whopping sum of INR 9.5 crore to avail his services. However, he was kept as a back-up for England’s Moeen Ali and didn’t get to play a single game.

Lucknow had to pay only INR 90 lakh to buy him in this auction and didn’t play him in the first three games. The 33-year-old finally got an opportunity against Delhi Capitals on Thursday and he made the most of it. The offspinner was asked to bowl the second over of the inning and Prithvi Shaw hit him for a couple of boundaries. He was brought back into the attack in the eighth over and Shaw greeted him with a four and a six. Gowtham had his revenge in the same over by getting the opener caught behind. Thereafter, he gave away just four runs in his next 15 deliveries and also bowled a maiden to Rishabh Pant, finishing with figures of 1/23.

Gowtham admitted that there “were the jitters” in the first game but he was on the money from the word go against Rajasthan. He started his spell by dismissing Devdutt Padikkal and then knocked over Rassie van der Dussen in the same over. He would have also got rid of in-form Hetmyer if Krunal Pandya wouldn’t have dropped a sitter at long-on. Gowtham was blasted for 19 runs off his first eight deliveries in the first encounter and was smacked for a couple of sixes in his final over against Rajasthan, but it’s what he has done in between that stands out.

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