So casual was Shane Warne during a pre-game pet talk that he ran out to address his players with white glowing slippers. It even prompted Michael Vaughan to say, "looks like Warney is coming straight from the beach." This was Warne, the Rajasthan Royals mentor, but also the same Warne, the character, the legend, and the mastermind that was capable of drawing the best out him when the team needed him the most.
But now the challenge he faces is different. Over his career, Warne had the tendency to lift for the deciding moments, now he has to try rejuvenating his players as a coach. Players in the Royals camp describe Warne as a true competitor and his words give them the inspiration of winning from any situation. To sum it up, he is a great a motivator.
Halfway through the IPL, the Royals are floating in the middle of the table. They have lost more games than they have won. While Warne’s wise words of wisdom might be an inspiration to the players, the men that take the field seem to be repeating the same mistakes or running short of ideas.
A couple of seasons ago, Ricky Ponting saw plenty of ability in Hardik Pandya at the Mumbai Indians and made him bat at No 3. Not only did Pandya fail, but it affected his batting for rest of the IPL. Similarly, Warne and the Royals team decisions to force Rahul Tripathi bat in the middle order at the start of the season has diminished the young man’s confidence. Despite being reverted to the opening slot in the last three games, he's still struggling for runs.
Man management is an important side of coaching and Warne was the pivotal in turning Shane Watson’s career in 2008 at the Royals, but during that time he still had a role to play with the ball, now it is only with words. As Michael Clarke stated nobody reads the game better than Warne, but reading it as an individual or a captain and making a decision on the field is different to a T20 mentor that needs to devise strategies by looking through data and patterns over the past few seasons.
This is not to say Warne does not study any data or predictions, but so shrewd and confident was he in his mind that despite a statistic revealing a trend, Warne, as a bowler, was prepared to go against the odds and still come out as a top bowler. But not everyone in the Royals teams is Warne. Most of them are still mastering their art and trying to fight their inner demons.
The match against the Sunrisers was a good example of the direction Warne wants his men to believe, but at the same time, probably went against the grain statistically. The Royals team management would have learnt the Sunrisers are the masters of choking the opposition through the middle overs before backing their best bowlers as the asking rate rises dramatically in the last few overs of the game.
With the Royals chasing a mere total of 150 on a pitch that offered no lateral movement and knowing the way the Sunrisers like to defend totals, the lack of impetus at the start of the innings was difficult to believe. The Royals are the most predictable team during the power-play, meaning their dot ball percentage, boundary to ball percentage and their scores do not vary much.
On Sunday, apart from one over from Basil Tampi that went for 17, the Royals top order failed to dominate the batting power-play. They needed that dynamic burst at the start to push the Sunrisers out of their comfort zone, but it never came. Samson tried his best, and to be fair, achieved his motive, but Ajinkya Rahane’s calculated innings played right into the Sunrisers hands. If anything, this was the match to try Butler at the top and give the Royals a fast start, so the middle order could afford the luxury of playing Rashid Khan with minimal risk. To sum it up, the Royals had failed to conjure a game play with the bat.
Perhaps, the fingers could be pointed at Rahane for not finishing the game despite batting through the 20 overs, but the fact that Warne the mentor did not devise a wiser strategy in the run-chase was a greater concern.
The T20 game is more about the analysis than Tests. Warne and the Royals need to have specific game plans against specific oppositions. From the evidence of Sunday and their style through the season, it is looking more and more like there are not prepared to deviate from a template that has been drawn on the whiteboard in the change rooms. Warne’s philosophy is to back those strategies, but there comes a time that plans need to be tinkered and new plans need to be devised.
While Warne might be a legend at conjuring and adapting new plans within a few balls, his team needs a bit of time to understand and implement. He will get another opportunity in the next couple of days. It will be intriguing to see what Warne can come up with.