Apart from the rain truncated match that ended in an unlikely win and a blistering knock by Sanju Samson, the Rajasthan Royals are struggling. It is a long tournament, but the early signs are they are a team lacking a definitive game plan and with players still coming to terms with each other. Above all they are still making elementary mistakes in terms of the batting order while the lack of quality fast bowlers is leaving them exposed.
Against Chennai on Friday night, the Royals were annihilated by 64 runs and were always behind the eight ball after the first six overs of the game. The powerplay overs are such a crucial part of the T20 game. Dropped catches, misfields and erring in lines during the powerplay are cardinal sins they could ill-afford.
While the execution was lacking with the ball, there are still concerns in the camp on the basic decision-making and strategy. The lack of vision in the team is best illustrated by the way Rahul Tripathi has been utilised so far this season.
Last season, Tripathi scored six consecutive scores in excess of 30 as an opener. To be number- specific, Tripathi averaged 30 with a strike-rate of 145. Alongside Ajinkya Rahane, he formed one of the most successful opening partnerships and helped catapulted the Rising Pune Supergiants into the IPL final. On Friday, the match against Chennai Super Kings was played in Pune, a ground Tripathi knows like the back of his hand having played abundantly on.
Given Rahane watched him so closely last year from the other end of the pitch, it is rather bizarre that now he is the skipper, he has decided not to open with Tripathi. Perhaps the problem lies there itself, and in the fact that Rahane as the captain is not making the tough calls.
There is a fair chance it was decided pre-season by the team mentor, Shane Warne, that he wanted to D’Arcy Short to open the innings, but given the Australian’s lack of form, either Warne himself or Rahane should have vouched for Tripathi to open the innings.
The lack of coaching experience in the Rajasthan dugout is also starting to be exposed. Sairaj Bahutule, the spin bowling coach, may have domestic experience, but he is still a newcomer into the IPL ranks. Batting coach Amol Muzumdar is a complete newbie, at least in the T20 format. So then it begs the question as to how Warne, the mentor or coach, is currently on a break back in Australia, especially given that the Royals have a seven-day break after their next match on Sunday.
Most T20 coaches around the world will tell you it takes a season and even two for a team to gel as a unit. Warne has been with the team now for nearly three weeks and for the players to be still batting in positions unfamiliar is asking for trouble.
Study the powerplay pattern during the Royals games thus far and you observe the similarities. On average, they hit 6.3 boundaries, played 15 dot balls and scored around 48 runs. Apart from a sensational knock from Samson two games ago, the team had really struggled to get that early impetus and rarely have they put the opposition opening bowlers under the pump.
Against Chennai, the team went on the right track by picking Heinrich Klassen and dropping Short, but made the mistake of asking Klassen to open the batting. The South African wicket-keeper batsman shot to fame during the India series for his ability to create havoc against wrist spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav during the middle overs. So for him to be thrust into the No 2 spot was a mindless decision.
While there can be plenty of finger pointing at the batsmen after failing to even make 150 on a batting pitch in Pune, the major concern for the Royals remains the bowling. Ben Laughlin has been outstanding, Shreyas Gopal has also been influential, but apart from those two, the bowling has been well below average.
From the outside it seems the Royals are still unsure about their own game and the style they want to adapt. Losing skipper Steve Smith at the last minute has hurt, since the team is lacking in direction and leadership. It is time for Rahane to stamp his authority as the captain and take ownership of the team. He needs to ensure he is not influenced in his decision making.
One man the Royals will be desperate to have in their playing XI is Jofra Archer. The right-arm pacer is the only genuine quick bowler in the squad and his ability to bowler searing yorkers, along with his raw pace will give them the wicket-taking option in the power-play and at the death.
The problem is that Archer might still be a week away from getting fit and the Royals only have two days to regroup before taking on the Mumbai Indians on Sunday. This season has been more about individual brilliance for the Royals, but if they’re to stay in touch with the top teams then they must ensure players are given a role that they are comfortable with. For now it is difficult to see this team going on a winning streak unless they start playing as a unit.