RR's fiddling theories might be doing them more harm than good

Have the Royals tried too many options this season (Pic Credits: IWM Buzz)
Have the Royals tried too many options this season (Pic Credits: IWM Buzz)
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Shashwat Kumar

Forget everything. Forget the fact that an Indian Premier League (IPL) title is up for grabs. Forget that the Rajasthan Royals (RR) have never won the crown since the inaugural edition. Forget that they’ve not even made the play-offs in the past couple of years. And just visualise this.

RR have arguably the greatest left-handed batter the sport has ever seen (Kumar Sangakkara) sitting in the dugout. They have one of the most precociously talented Indian batters (Sanju Samson) leading them. They also have the eccentric but very smart Ravichandran Ashwin providing inputs. They have excellent youngsters of the ilk of Devdutt Padikkal, Prasidh Krishna, Riyan Parag and Yashasvi Jaiswal as well. Oh, and the best T20 batter on the planet aka Jos Buttler opens the batting for them.

So, there are plenty of characters in that dressing room – characters who would know what it takes to crack the IPL code. But, therein lies the catch too. RR, on paper and according to conventional logic and wisdom, have all the tools to be successful. But is that really happening?

Prima facie, it seems it is. They are placed third on the IPL 2022 points table and have their fate in their own hands. They also have a positive Net Run Rate, meaning that if it comes to that, RR should be able to outlast their rivals. A closer look, though, might prompt you to suggest that they aren’t actually optimising their resources to the fullest. It might seem paradoxical in lieu of where they are placed on the table. But the game against the Delhi Capitals should provide you with all the requisite evidence.

In that fixture, RR lost Buttler inside 3 overs – an unimaginable sight considering he has carved open bowling units for fun this season. When that happened, RR opted to send in Ashwin. Ahead of Padikkal. Ahead of Rassie van der Dussen. And ahead of Samson. Ashwin, by the way, is no mug with the bat. He has multiple Test tons and can hold his own in challenging conditions.

This, though, didn’t really qualify as one of those. The ball was nipping around a touch but this was, by no stretch of the imagination, a Test at the Wanderers against a peak South African attack consisting Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander.

With three overs of the powerplay nearly done, there wasn’t a lot of time for Ashwin to impact RR’s score positively too. While the rationale would’ve been for him to maximise the field restrictions and then sacrifice his wicket, the sheer glut of options made this particular choice perplexing.

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As it turns out #RR have wasted one of their two best batsmen by keeping him for the end. Need to find 160-165 now.

Are too many cooks spoiling the broth for RR?

For context, van der Dussen bats at No.3 for South Africa. In T20Is. In tournaments such as the T20 World Cup. Before Wednesday, he had never batted below number 5 in a T20. He ultimately came out to bat for RR at number 7 when the horse had firmly bolted.

The South African, apart from being a graceful timer of the ball, also has a pretty decent technique. He plays Test cricket and bats at number 4 for the Proteas. So clearly, he knows how to hold a bat.

His numbers in the top four are also pretty extraordinary. When opening, he averages 36.51 and strikes at 129.71. A spot below, he averages 39.42 and strikes at 125.17. At number 4, he averages 41.82 and strikes at 132.4. More crucially, he has batted at the top of the order 57 times, at number 3 on 35 occasions and has turned out at number 4 on 26 further instances.

He had never batted at numbers 6 and 7 – partly because he likes taking his time before unleashing his repertoire of strokes but largely because his true value lies elsewhere. But the Royals still used him as a finisher at number 7 on Wednesday. If they wanted to have an overseas finisher, James Neesham would have been a better option with his skill-set.

Samson, long viewed as one of the most talented batters in the country, has an excellent record at number 3. He averages 38.54 and strikes at 140.86 in T20s. He has batted at that spot 70 times too, hinting that he knows the demands of that position. He strode out to bat at No.5 against DC. Throughout his T20 career, he has batted at positions 5-7 lesser than 10 times each.

The other alternative the Royals had was to send in Padikkal, who was slotted in as their designated one-down batter. The left-hander has made a living opening the batting for Karnataka in domestic cricket and fared fairly decently when performing a similar gig for the Royal Challengers Bangalore. But he batted at No.4 when the spinners, who he struggles against, were in operation.

Ashwin ended up getting a half-century, and there is a school of thought suggesting that he shut up all his critics and pretty much whatever is written in this article. He might not have done that, though because T20, irrespective of whatever anyone says, is a game of opportunity cost.

Ashwin chewed up 38 deliveries for RR and could only muster 50 runs. RR ultimately finished with a middling total – a total that was hunted down comfortably by David Warner and Mitchell Marsh inside 19 overs. Samson faced 4 balls, Parag faced 5 balls and van der Dussen faced 10 deliveries.

Had each of the troika played as many deliveries at their usual positions, they would still have had 19 balls left to make a desirable impact. There will be a theory that Ashwin did what was asked of him and tried his best. His effort isn’t in question at all. It’s just that RR, in pursuit of trying something different, bungled up what was seemingly very obvious.

The Royals have done something similar in the past when the late great Shane Warne used Johan Botha, another off-spinner as a floater during IPL 2011. Most of those, however, came about when RR were chasing and had the luxury of planning out how many runs were needed each over. In that scenario, if Botha wanted to just tick along and not play many big shots, thereby allowing those to bat around him, he could have done so.

When setting a target, the dynamics change drastically. Hence, Ashwin could have retired out once the essay was past the half-way stage and he had accomplished what he was sent out to achieve. After all, this is something he has preached on social media and has put into practice at this IPL already. But with a milestone looming, maybe his and RR’s image of T20 tactical innovations was blurred a bit. We will never know, though.

What we understand for certain is that RR, at this point, have too many fiddling theories. They have an idea for every situation, and while that isn’t the worst thing in the world, having too many chiefs and not enough crew is also a problm,. Each has their own vision of how the game needs to be played. But each is complicating things more than what should be the case. It has worked for large parts. So, a bit of credit is due.

#RR have flown into a bit of turbulence here. Come up now against #LSG who have a point to prove after their last performance and #CSK who have nothing to lose. Need to win at least one.

But when a knockout game comes around, the quandary is whether they will be as committed to trying out new stuff. At that moment, they will feel they want to return to the mean, only for them to realise that a mean doesn’t exist at all because, well, they’ve been so flexible that they’ve actually become inflexible.

RR want to challenge conventional cricketing logic and wisdom. They want to think out-of-the-box. They even have the personnel for that kind of approach. But is it just getting a little too out of hand? That’s what they must answer moving forward.

Edited by Prasen Moudgal
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