In Rajasthan Royals’ match against Royal Challengers Bangalore on Sunday, Ajinkya Rahane tried something extraordinary on the very first ball of the match. The Royals skipper attempted a reverse sweep against Washington Sundar. With five fielders inside the inner ring on the off-side, the shot was on, but Rahane failed to connect with the ball.
Rahane’s intent gave us an insight into his mindset. For the first two games, he had been hellbent on playing the role of an anchor. He wanted to be the batsman who batted deep into the innings: even a score above 50 with a strike-rate of around 115 was determined to be satisfactory by him and the team. After all, this is the type of role he has been assigned to do and has been expected of him from the various coaches and teams he has played in.
Then in Bangalore on Sunday and again in Jaipur against the Kolkata Knight Riders on Wednesday night, Rahane had a change of mind. He wanted to be more expansive, he wanted to be bold, he wanted to be the aggressor. In both innings, he scored a rapid 37 and 35 respectively off 20 and 19 balls. It gave the Royals impetus at the start of the innings, something that had been missing in the first two games.
Perhaps it was a change that had to be made given the struggles of his opening partner D’Arcy Short. The Australian opening batsman was designated to be the aggressor and Rahane the anchor, but Short has found it tough to adjust to Indian pitches.
While he had managed to run himself out in the opening two matches, his inability to rotate strike of the spin bowlers had led to him scoring at a mere run-a-ball despite batting past the powerplay.
It was the same trend against the Knight Riders on Wednesday night. Rahane offered the early fireworks by striking Sunil Narine for four consecutive boundaries in an over as Short struggled to find his feet against the slow bowlers.
It is to Rahane’s credit that he is able to adjust his game, but somewhere down the line, Short has to find his touch. One of the major drawbacks in Short’s game is that most of his power shots are horizontal bat strokes and on the low skiddy pitches, it is difficult to execute those shots with a cross bat.
A breakdown of Short’s innings of 42 from 41 balls highlights his deficiency against slow bowlers. While Short scored 26 off 15 balls against the pacers, he could only manage 18 off 26 balls against the spinners. Add to this the fact that in his four innings so far, he has only managed to hit three boundaries in the 29 balls he has faced in the powerplay.
Short’s weakness against spinners has prompted Rahane to change his game. With two losses in the first four games, either Short needs to be aggressor or he needs to play the Rahane role and bat until the 15th or 16th over, a role he is accustomed to playing too, but only on the bouncy pitches of Australia where spin plays less of a role.
One other player who desperately needs to pick up his act for the Royals is Jaydev Unadkat. The left-arm pacer is the second most expensive player in the squad. For now he has failed to produce the bowling that led to him being one of the most sought after bowlers in the IPL auction.
Unadkat was sensational for the Rising Pune Supergiants last year with his variety of slower balls and cutters, along with a wide yorker. This season, he has played on surfaces where the slower ball has not been effective and his wide yorkers are getting predictable. The left-arm pacer has only managed to pick up two wickets at an average of 33 with an economy rate of 11.11.
With Jofra Archer still sidelined with a knee injury, Unadkat is Royals’ go-to man in the death overs and if he needs to be effective he must conjure up different methods to keep the runs down and pick up wickets. Against the Knight Riders, it was slightly surprising not to see him bowl around the wicket to the right-handers and aim for the stumps. It was a pitch that demanded stump to stump line, but Unadkat kept offering batsmen the room.
The rain might have helped the Royals to secure their first win, Samson’s flamboyance ensured the cracks at the top of the order were unexposed, but as the tournament goes on, players such as Unadkat have to lift their game and perhaps there is a need for a change at the top of the order.
It might just be the time to bump Jos Buttler to partner Rahane at the top and possibly bring in the innovative South African Henrik Klassen into the middle order.
The Royals are the only team to have played the same XI for all four matches with two wins and two losses. It might be time to mix and match to find the best combination.