Last year, Rajasthan had won just three of their first nine games. Numbers like those can kill a season, so RR decided to ignore them. They went on to win the next four out of five games, simply by switching race strategies. Instead of saving their nitro cylinder for a final burst, they used it up at the start, by promoting Jos Buttler to the top of the order.
It worked. Their star player delivered, and Rajasthan made the Playoffs, saving their season, odds be damned. And RR coach Paddy Upton seems to still be subsisting on the inspiration of 2018, because he is ignoring all sorts of numbers in 2019. Even these:
That is Jaydev Unadkat’s economy rate this season, and yet they keep picking him. Unadkat is a force in First Class cricket, and he helped Saurashtra to the last Ranji Trophy final, but in the IPL he has been found out for two seasons in a row now. After that breakthrough year in 2017 where he was the second-highest wicket-taker with an economy rate of 7.02, he cost RR 9.65 in his next season. You could put that down to one bad year and one bad investment; after all, this was the most expensive Indian player of 2018, at 11.5 crores. But then the RR management did a Britney Spears, going ‘Oops, I did it again’, and shelled out 8.4 crores this season.
Unadkat was dropped after three games in IPL 2019, but then promptly made a comeback into the XI. Oppositions have consistently targeted his left-arm pace, usually a prized angle in T20, but perhaps a bit one-dimensional. But nonetheless, expect him to play the next game, because RR paid a bomb for him, like they did for this next guy.
That’s how many crores Ben Stokes cost the Royals management in the 2018 auction, after which he was retained. On paper it looked a sensible pick, if you discount the fact that they are paying that much for a about three-fourths of a season. Stokes, like Unadkat, had had a great 2017, but an average 2018 with both bat and ball. This season, his batting might have saved his skin, but a bowling economy rate of 11.22, and a spectacularly familiar last over against Chennai Super Kings, where he bowled a no-ball and failed to defend 18, cost him his place. One star player down, but wait, there’s one more to go.
That, according to CricViz, is Steve Smith’s run rate this season. Their Timing metric places him at the bottom of a pile of batters who have faced at least 100 balls. Metrics like that are illustrative, but the point has been there for all to see: Smith isn’t in the best of form, perhaps hindered by the heavily taped elbow, or perhaps due to the lack of quality cricket. As it may be, his batting is secondary; Smith has been picked despite not being able to throw overarm, and therefore unable to field in key positions. Leave aside the concerns that Australian fans would have had about him playing with injury before a World Cup, but Smith has been dragging down RR’s run rate, especially in the company of Ajinkya Rahane, also a player of similar ilk. And yet RR waited till half their season was burned to replace him.
That’s the position Rahane has been batting at for this entire season, except Tuesday (16th April). Rahane has had an above par IPL season, with his SR of 133 his best ever in more than a decade of playing the tournament. But even upgraded versions of anachronisms look old, and it is a measure of how much T20 batting has changed that Rahane looks a misfit, even when opening the batting. He said in this interview that he still believed there was a role for an anchor, someone who can bat through the 20 overs. Perhaps there is, but that anchor need not be at the crease in the Powerplay. But then, put Rahane in the middle order and he looks as comfortable as a fish asked to tap dance in an oven. I wrote at the start of the season that Rahane may not fit the RR XI, and very little I have seen changes that opinion. Repeat after me: Ajinkya Rahane is not a T20 batter.
Yes, RR did make most of the changes eventually. Stokes was dropped after his horror last over. Smith was replaced by Ashton Turner. Rahane moved out of his opening slot to pair Buttler with Rahul Tripathi. But they didn’t make these moves because they were required, they made them because they were desperate. Like they were when they promoted Buttler last season. It bought them a miracle then. It probably won’t now. There is only so far desperate can take you if you aren’t being smart.