No Jos Buttler. No Ben Stokes. No problem for the Rajasthan Royals. Despite being underdogs in their match against the red-hot Royal Challengers Bangalore, the Ajinkya Rahane-led Royals pulled off one of their best wins of IPL 2018 on a hot Saturday afternoon in Jaipur.
Royals’ against-the-odds victory moved them into the top four and if Mumbai Indians and Punjab Kings XI lose their respective matches on Sunday, they will miraculously find themselves playing in the IPL 2018 playoffs.
It has been a season of upsets, but Rajasthan’s victory on Saturday will be one of the most satisfying for the team in blue. They started the game without their most influential player and leading run-scorer with the bat in Buttler and were also against a team that had, on paper, so much more firepower and were in great form.
But when the chips seem to be down it is amazing how some players can lift their games to that extra level to create that unity. Rahul Tripathi is the ideal example. This season, he has been shuffled in the order, and was also left out of the team. But against Bangalore, he regained his magic touch from last season. It can be extremely difficult for a player to stay confident when he is not quite sure of his role, but on Saturday he showed his calibre with a blistering knock of 80 from 54 balls.
It was Tripathi’s highest score of the season and the way he manhandled Yuzvendra Chahal with a series of slog sweeps at the start of the innings laid the foundation for the innings. It was just the kind of innings the Royals would have loved throughout the season. In fact, had Tripathi opened from the first game, then opposition teams might have been reluctant to use spinners upfront because of his ability to handle spin with ease. Looking back on the season, the Royals will regret not opening with Tripathi from the outset.
The lack of resources also meant the Royals had to be innovative. They tried Jofra Archer at the top of the batting order. Henrik Klassen suddenly got a game and batted with freedom. Krishnappa Gowtham once again showed why he is a fantastic T20 prospect. Importantly, the Royals were ready to scrap, tussle and push their limitations as a team.
Sometimes with the resources being limited, it also brings out the best in the captain. Rahane’s captaincy was brilliant. He kept a slip in place for the spinners on a pitch that was aiding turn besides going against the norm of winning the toss and bowling first. He also kept the pressure on Virat Kohli with K Gowtham’s off-spin and neutralised the big threat upfront. It eventually led to Gowtham castling Kohli.
After spending nearly a month on the sidelines, Ben Laughlin returned to the fray and did his part diligently. Despite looking like being on the wrong end of the scales after 30 overs of the match, the Royals never gave in.
The Royals might have got their tactics and strategies incorrect at times, but there was never any doubt about their competitive spirit. In their second last game, Rahane was seen unleashing a loud roar, Stokes kept flinging himself around the boundary despite the result looking inevitable and other such as Laughlin and Archer showed the tenacity that is not usually seen when the team starts losing.
Despite their two most prized recruits in Stokes and Jaydev Unadkat performing under par, the Royals still managed to take themselves into the top four and could well yet feature in the play-offs.
Shane Warne, the mentor, had done wonders in the inaugural IPL with a bunch of ‘no-names’ and the match against Bangalore almost mirrored that season. Tripathi blossomed, Rahane captained superbly, Klaasen was superb with gloves and with the bat, Gopal and Gowtham elevated their game to a new level. It was almost like the unpredictability had brought out the best in players and allowed them to play with freedom.
At the start of the season it seemed like too much focus was based on Buttler, Stokes, Unadkat and Archer, but as their victory over Bangalore proved, sometimes getting the best out of the unfancied group changes the dynamics of the playing group.
Importantly, the win came against an opposition that was equally desperate for a win. It is fair to say the Royals just lacked that winning belief through the tournament. That is where the seniors such as Stokes, Unadkat and Rahane had let them down. But with each wicket on Saturday night, the belief grew and the confidence returned even if it was through players that could be termed as ‘tier two’.
Another win or just one decent outing from Stokes or one magic spell from Unadkat might have been enough to secure a play-off already, but for now their destiny lies in the other teams’ hands. For now all they can do now is wait and hope. Perhaps they might just get the rub of the green and we might get to see the underdogs in action again for one last time this season.
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Kohli, who is going to relinquish RCB captaincy after this edition, said there was no question of pressing the panic button just yet.
"I don't know too much, to be honest, at the moment. At present we are expecting the game to go ahead. Things are all fine in our camp. We are looking forward to the game," England vice captain Jos Buttler said.
According to Gambhir, the timing of Kohli's decision to step down as RCB captain could have a negative effect on the team’s performance.