You don’t need a lip reader to read the mood of the ‘room’ at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium. If you did hire one, then chances are that you are now well-versed with a lot of cuss words. That was exactly how the heat at the venue was, and what transpired after were the visuals of dejection on the faces of the Royals’ players.
There was Obed McCoy, who couldn’t believe, there was Shimron Hetmyer, who was on the ground almost begging for other beliefs. Sanju Samson couldn’t fathom it either but then mustered up the courage at the post-match presentation.
“Matches like this make the IPL special. Life is never easy playing this format in this tournament,” is what Samson had to say.
But Sanju, who is to blame?
The Royals were perhaps one of the firm favourites pre-tournament to finish top two, considering how their additions - Adam Zampa and Jason Holder - strengthened the setup. After five rounds of 2023 IPL action, it was a given that the Royals would finish in the top two.
They were topping the table, and the difference in points between them and the next-best team was two, a win. Beating Chennai Super Kings and Gujarat Titans in the span of a week is commendable, and that’s what made everyone believe that the Royals were firm favourites.
But in the next six games, they have won one and lost five. They squandered three opportunities to register a win at home and also managed to lose an on-the-road run-chase against Royal Challengers Bangalore, which now could be a big difference between the two sides.
What if I told you that this is eerily similar to another season? By now, the Royals are well aware of the demons that the 2014 season had on their fortune. Cast your mind back, chances are that the visuals are clear as daylight. A happy Aditya Tare was covered in sweat and glory, and he tucked under his jersey to run like a madman.
At the other end of that spectrum was Rahul Dravid, a man who rarely lost his cool. But on that night, he did. He even threw his cap. Why are we talking about this game out of the blue? At the end of the halfway stage of that year’s competition, the Royals were firm favourites to push through, with ten points.After round 11, they were on 14, the magical number but the freak show of their loss against Mumbai ensured that they were on their way out.
Do you see the similarity? Eight points at the end of game five, ten after eight, and the Royals now find themselves in a spot of bother, needing three wins out of their last three to push for a place in the playoffs.
All that was required for them was a win against the league wooden-spoon holders, Sunrisers Hyderabad. Barring one game prior to today, Hyderabad have always been on the botched end of run-chases. Whether it was the 72-run loss in the opener, a 14-run defeat against Mumbai or a seven-run loss against Delhi, chasing was never their cup of tea.
Against Kolkata, they had an opportunity to right the wrong, with just nine runs left in the run-chase off the last over. It was Abdul Samad, who was at the wrong end of their loss against Mumbai. He had a prime opportunity to hit Varun Chakravarthy, and the delivery was there up his alley but then he faltered.
Call it pressure or just bad luck, Samad was on the receiving end of two losses. It was almost like people were hurling several severe words at him. Some even asked whether he had it in him to succeed at the highest level.
But fate presented him with a prime opportunity here. Sunrisers didn’t have a single hero, a single batter who got a big total but had all the batters contribute in one way or the other. Barring their skipper Aiden Markram, every single batter had a strike-rate of above 130.
It was the partnership between Abhishek Sharma and Rahul Tripathi that changed the complexion of the encounter, with a 65-run stand. But then Heinrich Klaasen walked out with a tough task, to battle Yuzvendra Chahal. He did exactly that before holed out, with a six and a four.
41 runs were required from the last two overs. But if luck was going to play a similar role, there was a high chance that the Sunrisers would have ended up with another loss. Samad with tears rolling down his cheeks.
What transpired in Jaipur was utterly different, luck favoured them for the first time. Samad got a reprieve via a no-ball and later got another attempt at chasing the total. And this time, he was the hero. On the other hand, there was Sandeep Sharma, a man who has mostly been on the right end of things this season.
Just a look at his fellow state player, Umran Malik would give you a fair idea of what this win meant. He ran across the pitch and jumped on Samad giving him an earful. It was pure emotions, this is what the two points meant for the Sunrisers.
It was indeed a day of some bad decisions on the field. In the earlier clash, Krunal Pandya and Lucknow Super Giants sent an out-of-form Deepak Hooda at No.3, in a run-chase of 228, Samson’s decision to hand a young Kuldip Yadav the ball wasn’t any different.
If you look at the decisions that they took in the game, you wouldn’t be wrong in assuming that qualification chances are less for them. McCoy was brought in as an impact player. Whether Murugan Ashwin was the right move instead of the experience of Adam Zampa. Or whether Joe Root was the solution to their worries. Or whether Devdutt Padikkal was the right move.
All the Windies bowler bowled in the entire encounter was one over. On the night he might have conceded 13 runs but not backing him over the inexperience of Kuldip was certainly a big miss. The inexperience of Kuldip was evidently visible, as Glenn Phillips, an experienced pro took him to the cleaners.
Six, six, six and four was enough to almost tilt the game back in Sunrisers’ favour. One can argue that Sandeep had to bowl the last over, having won them a clash from a similar position against Chennai earlier in the season. Incidentally, only twice in the competition's history has a team scored 41 runs in the last two overs.
But to have so many missed opportunities, both on the field and off the field - with some poor decision-making, the Royals are letting their season slip one game at a time. To let an out-of-form Sunrisers chase 215, the Royals will regret this the most. It is still in their hands but as momentum would tell a tale, the Royals will rue all the missed opportunities come when the curtains down on the tournament’s league stage.
All of this despite their star spinner Yuzvendra Chahal ending with figures of 4/29.