IPL: The best team, not the best individual, will win
And at the moment, even without Shane Watson, the Rajasthan Royals have managed to punch above their weight.
The lesson of the IPL so far has been that the best teams as opposed to the best collection of players will trump over the long run of the tournament. Individual brilliance may win you some matches but a successful run in this IPL is going to depend on how well all the “parts” of your team come together.
The success of the Rajasthan Royals so far is a testimony to that.
Approximately half way through the league stage they are tied for the top position with the Delhi Daredevils. Bar the beating at the Wankhede against Mumbai, the losses have been close and going down to the last over.
No pre-tournament predictions expected their presence at the top at this stage. They’re almost entirely devoid of T-20 superstars, and their talismanic all rounder, Shane Watson, is not due to join them for another week at least. Yet, they’ve managed to punch above their weight. From the looks of it, I expect them to remain unbeaten at home and beat Punjab, Deccan and Pune.
Rajasthan’s success so far has not been just due to luck. The strategy has been quite clear. Dravid and Rahane set up a stable opening for the first 8 overs or so with Owais Shah and Hodge taking over the heavy scoring in the latter part. If any weakness must be pointed out in the batting order, it is the needless promotion of Menaria above Hodge (an obvious cause of their defeat in the last match).
In the IPL, as Robin Jackman never ceases to remind us, you need your best batsmen to face as many balls as possible. The Royals' lineup lacks the obvious blast of a Gayle or Sehwag at the top or the turbo boost that a Pietersen or a Taylor may give in the end overs, and their bowling has neither the pace of a Steyn nor the wiles of a Narine, but they have managed to defend any reasonable total above 150.
Even where the batting has let them down with a sub-par 150 score (as against KKR in Kolkata and against CSK in Chennai) they’ve managed to keep the Royals in contention right to the end. This is not insignificant as it looks more likely than ever that semifinals spots may end up being decided on run rate. Here, the close losses may make the difference between a semifinal berth and a wooden spoon.
There’s obviously very little similarity between the Ranji Trophy and the IPL, but the Royals will not do too badly to take a leaf out of the book of the Ranji-winning Rajasthan team (and I mean Aakash Chopra’s wonderful “Out of the Blue”). In both years, the Ranji Trophy win cannot be attributed to any one batsman or bowler destroying the opposition repeatedly. It depended on getting all the parts of a cricket team, the bowling, the batting, the fielding, and yes, the support staff as well, in working shape and working together. They didn’t have India pros (save for ex-India players like Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Chopra) and it's obvious that the absence of egos had a lot to do with the way the team has gelled to become one of the top teams in Indian domestic cricket in barely three years.
I’ll put my neck out and predict that on current form, the Royals will make it to the semis. The one change they may necessarily have to make is to ensure that Hodge always bats above Menaria — and Watson above Hodge once he’s back from the West Indies.
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