There is history, and a back story, going into this match.
When the two teams met in Mumbai on April 13, the Royals initially made light work of a chase of 188 on the sort of track bowlers wake up with screaming nightmares about. From 146/1 after 13, needing just 42 off the last 42 balls, Rajasthan found ways to muck it up, collapsing to 174/6 before a neck or nothing six by Shreyas Gopal off Hardik Pandya sealed the win with three balls to spare.
Within that larger story of serial bumbles by both sides (worth noting that Gopal, the Royals’ savior, was dropped off the last ball of the 19th over, bowled by Bumrah) was a more epic tale, a story of gods and mortals and how, often, those who inhabit Olympian heights are rudely, abruptly brought down to earth.
Alzarri Joseph came into the game as the latest god in the bowling pantheon, with a storied spell of 3.4-0-16 against the Sunrisers. On a batting friendly track in Mumbai, he wasn’t as incisive in his first two overs, but he still showed signs of why he could be dangerous.
Then came over number 13. Royals needing 70 from 48; Jos Buttler – arguably the major reason the Royals have failed to beat RCB to the bottom of the table – on strike. Joseph bowled a low swinging full toss on middle, a fuller length outside off, a slower cutter outside off, a wide yorker, ar yorker on the base of off stump, a slower one on a shorter length. And disappeared for 6-4-4-4-4-6.
28 runs in an over; a god reduced to a mortal, a tough chase reduced to 42 off 42. Legendary baseball player Babe Ruth said it best: “One day you are a hero, the next day you are a bum.”
Buttler has the ninth best strike rate this year (151.7); the 11th fastest fifty (29 balls, in this game against MI); the eighth highest score (89, again, in the Wankhede game); ranks sixth in the number of fours in one innings (10, in an innings of 69 against KXIP); and is second on the list of most runs scored in an over (28 versus Joseph; the top rank is Andre Russell, also 28 but off one ball less). It’s fair to say that the Rajasthan team this year is comprised of one cricketing Royal and ten commoners.
The Royals are out of the playoffs, with six losses against two wins from eight games. On the other hand, Mumbai come into this game placed second on the points table, with 12 points from six wins (the Royals inflicted one of the three defeats) in nine games. They have tough games after this one – against CSK in Chennai, against KKR home and away, and against the Sunrisers at home – and therefore cannot afford to drop a point here. And that makes taking Buttler out early the key to the puzzle.
Those numbers illumine Mumbai’s best strategy – spin against Buttler early, because his strike rate is lesser, and dismissal rate higher, against spin than pace. Worth noting is the fact that off the first ball of the 14th over, immediately after Buttler’s mayhem against Joseph, Rahul Chahar tossed one up outside off turning further away and got the Englishman, then on fire, to hole out. It is not just that Buttler is slower and more vulnerable against spin – it is that he has a preferred hitting zone where his arms are fully extended; when the ball lands in that zone he goes, and if it moves further away when he is into his shot, he gets it on the toe end of the bat.
The Sawai Mansingh Stadium has a peculiarity: You want good spinners in your playing eleven, but maybe not in your fantasy picks. Here’s why:
It is only in Chennai (5.16 RR) that spinners are harder to score off than in Jaipur. (The Kotla comes third with a 6.45 RR). But conversely, when it comes to picking wickets, Jaipur is the worst of all grounds for spinners, marginally ahead of the Wankhede (SR 27.3) and the Eden Gardens (SR 27.2). Pace bowlers have marginally better success rates in Jaipur: they go for 8.4 runs per over, but at 23.6 the pacers have a better strike rate than their slower brethren.
This brings up a tangential story: The Royals’ biggest handicap this year has been a weak coaching staff led by Paddy Upton, who before landing this assignment was basically Greg Chappell’s assistant in various coaching stints. From what I personally know of Upton, he is a nice guy, a details person who is good at managing training routines and such, but not the most innovative of thinkers about the game.
And it shows. In the first game played at the venue this year, versus KXIP which the Royals lost chasing 184, the Royals gave their best spinner Shreyas Gopal one single over (5 runs) while Ben Stokes and Jaydev Unadkat bowled seven between them and got two wickets for 92 runs.
The ‘spin for control, pace for wickets’ pattern became evident in the subsequent games. On April 7, KKR won chasing the Royals’ 139; in that game a combination of Piyush Chawla, Sunil Naraine and Kuldeep Yadav bowled 12-0-74-0, while the clever medium pace variations of Harry Gurney got the wickets. On April 11, CSK defeated the Royals and here, it was Santner plus Ravi Jadeja plus Imran Tahir who kept things in check (12-0-73-2) while Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur were more expensive, giving away 77 in their 8 overs but picking up four wickets.
This is to state the blindingly obvious, but the main reason MI does way better than the Royals lies in how the former handle the two key phases of the game.
In powerplays, Mumbai scores at 8.41, the best of all teams this year with only Sunrisers (8.13) topping the 8 RPO mark. Add to this the fact that they have the lowest dismissal rate of all teams (40.7), and you have a team whose openers set it up beautifully for the power-packed finishers Hardik Pandya (second best in the strike rate charts in IPL 2019, hitting at 194.6) and Kieron Pollard (third best of all teams, going at 177.8).
If the Mumbai franchise has a flaw, it is in the middle overs (7-15) where they have the worst dismissal rate of all sides (21.1) while scoring at a healthy but not overwhelming 7.14 RPO.
It could be fallacious to say that MI therefore is weak in the middle – the single reason for this seemingly weak performance in the middle phase is that once the openers Rohit Sharma and Quinton de Kock get past the powerplays, they attempt to go big knowing that with the likes of Suryakumar Yadav, Krunal Pandya, Hardik Pandya and Keiron Pollard still in the hut, they have an overwhelming finishing kick and can therefore afford to take risks earlier than most other sides. Add to this one interesting element: the Royals concede marginally less runs in the powerplays, but significantly more at the death, than the opposition.
Rajasthan is playing for nothing more than pride. The best teams attempt to construct sides that are best suited to their home grounds; in this, the Royals have failed signally, winning only one game (against, no surprise, RCB) and losing two (against KKR and CSK). On both occasions, the Royals failed to defend, and this despite a bowling lineup that boasts Dhawal Kulkarni (consistently economical and successful in the opening overs) and Jthe excellent Jofra Archer (who ranks fifth among all bowlers in terms of dot balls – 87 dots out of 186 balls bowled, for an economy rate of 6.7 and a strike rate of 11.05), besides the spinning skills of Shreyas Gopal as backup.
The Royals weakness lies in two areas: lack of proper support bowlers, with the likes of Ben Stokes and Jaydev Unadkat proving ineffective and expensive for the most part; and a batting lineup that is badly skewed, a point made at length in the earlier preview of the Royals game against KXIP. And that is Mumbai’s opportunity against the Royals, a team that, barring Buttler, doesn’t score at a pace brisk enough to put sufficient runs on the board. Here, the Royals go up against an attack led by Jasprit Bumrah – who this season has only 10 wickets in nine games, but has bowled an incredible 103 dot balls out of a total of 208 deliveries sent down.
Net net, this is Mumbai’s game to win, but that is also the fun part of the back end of such tournaments: teams with nothing to gain sometimes produce results against the form book and, in the process, badly damage a well-placed team’s prospects for the playoffs.
Mumbai: Rohit Sharma, Quinton de Kock, Suryakumar Yadav, Ben Cutting, Krunal Pandya, Hardik Pandya, Keiron Pollards, Rahul Chahar, Jayant Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Lasit Malinga
Rajasthan: Rahul Tripathi, Jos Buttler, Sanju Samson, Ajinkya Rahane, Ashton Turner, Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Stuart Binny, Shreyas Gopal, Jaydev Unadkat, Dhawal Kulkarni