Chennai Super Kings (CSK) needed 18 off the last over. Ben Stokes had the precious task of trying to win the match for the Rajasthan Royals (RR) with the ball. Stokes has now been in this scenario more than a handful of times albeit he has generally ended up on the losing side. But he is the last guy to back down from the challenge. Ajinkya Rahane had the option of bowling Jaydev Unadkat but he decided to stick with Stokes. It was a brave move and one that looked justifiable when Stokes bowled MS Dhoni with a sublime yorker. Had Stokes turned the corner? Had the Royals turned the corner? Four balls later and the answers were negative. The Royals are languishing in the seventh spot and they keep committing the same mistakes.
On numerous occasions, last season and again in IPL 2019, the Royals have earmarked Stokes as the designated death bowler. Constantly, they had burdened him with the responsibility of bowling four overs. Yes, he is a genuine all-rounder, but he is more than just a thrasher of a cricket ball. He is good enough to be a pure batsman. Last night, he batted at No 6 when he should have been sent higher.
Chennai had picked three spinners that turn the ball away from the right-handers — Mitchell Santner, Ravindra Jadeja and Imran Tahir. It presented Royals a great opportunity to break the sequence of right-handers by bumping Stokes up the order. Stokes' job would have been made easier largely due to the fact that all the spinners would have spun the ball into his hitting arc. It was a miscalculation and a poor strategy. For a player that is so instrumental and gives perfect balance to a team, Stokes continuously gets misused in the Rajasthan set-up.
One aspect the Royals did learn from their previous match against KKR in Jaipur was that they need to go harder during the Powerplay. Speaking to Star Sports during a time-out, Ashton Turner told Michael Slater, "We realised from the previous match here that we need to make the most out of the first six overs". It was a good strategy and Butler came out all guns blazing. He had laid a solid platform and did exactly what the team wanted, but it was what followed that really must have frustrated the daylights out of the Rajasthan coaching staff.
All the Royals needed to be a player to drop anchor. Ajinkya Rahane is probably the ideal person along with Steve Smith. However, the problem with Rahane in this IPL is that he has been guilty of trying to force the issue beyond his limitations. It has to lead to him losing his shape and playing the ball across the line. Rahane has never been that explosive opener and if the tactic was to go hard, perhaps Rahul Tripathi should have been bumped up the order with Rahane at No 3. T20 cricket is about having different strategies against different opponents. Unfortunately for the Royals, they have right plans but simply cannot execute or are not willing to deviate from their methods.
Last night was also an ideal opportunity for Smith to bat deep and keep the scoreboard ticking along by picking up singles against the CSK spinners. But Smith's adventurous cross-batted sweep was diabolical. Rarely does he sweep the ball, so for the former Australian captain to deviate from his strong zone was an indication that his game awareness was probably not up to his usual standards. Sanju Samson was similar, but he could be forgiven, as he was in all likelihood designated the task of capitalising on the fast start.
All the small mistakes the Royals made on the evening led to their capitulation. Yes, teams make mistakes, but the good teams have the players that can cover their teammates' errors. The problem with the Royals is that even after six matches, they are yet to assign dedicated roles to their players. Players such as Tripathi are being lured away from his strengths. Stokes has not been given the extra responsibility with the bat like he has been with the ball. Even the skipper is unsure of his role at the top of the order.
At least the Royals are prepared to deviate from their methods from the early matches. Jaydev Unadkat was given the new ball and bowled pretty well. A youngster like Riyaan Parag was trialled in the middle order and Jofra Archer was held back until the death overs.
From the outside, it seems like the coach and the captain are yet to understand what situation brings out the best from each player. Stokes bowling at the death has not worked for a long time. Tripathi in the middle order has been a failure. It's time for Rahane and the coaching staff to make the tough decisions, else the season could well be over if they lose to the Mumbai Indians (MI) on Saturday afternoon.
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