IPL 2019 has reached the phase where some teams face a knockout scenario in every game. It's credit to the openness of this year's competition that on Saturday, even with just 12 league games every team still has a chance of making it to the playoffs.
Rajasthan Royals had a lot going for them as a team, but they haven't been able to produce the results early on and were relegated to the bottom two spots for most of the season. But a win in their last game against the mighty Mumbai Indians kept them alive in the season. In the past, we have seen teams rallying from such sudden death scenarios to make it to the Playoffs or even win the IPL after a hopeless start for the season.
This was going to be the first game of the season for the Royals where they face a severe handicap of playing without Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes. With Jos Buttler already out, this was a severely depleted team. Even at the start of the seasons, many felt that Rajasthan had to do all the running in the league stage while their star players are still around and hope for a miracle in the playoffs. But the team had a lot of running to do still at this late stage with very fewer pairs of legs to count on.
On the brighter side, players marked as reserves at the start of the season were putting their hands up and making contributions. A 17-year-old rookie in Riyan Parag was batting with freedom and authority. With the ball, a one time India hopeful, but long forgotten in IPL, Varun Aaron had come back in the last game with upgraded weaponry. After handing over the captaincy to Steve Smith, Rahane was back to being the Rahane that IPL fans know of. Perhaps, most importantly, the team was now playing with clear heads and clear plans in place, and the result was showing in the field.
With the ball, the plan was evident in the very first over. The Jaipur pitch has offered variable pace and bounce this season, but to get the most out of it you have to dig it short of good length. Aaron bowled almost everything in that area in his opening burst. The very first over had two knuckle balls setting the tone for the rest of the innings. The Rajasthan seamers were going to bowl these off-pace deliveries like there is no tomorrow.
At the other end, Oshane Thomas hit the same hard length at a lively pace. Some sloppy ground fielding allowed the Hyderabad batsman to still get off to a decent start, but the bowlers stuck to their plans. Shreyas Gopal has been one of the most improved players in IPL over the last two seasons. He troubled all batsmen with his accuracy and variations and dismissed Kane Williamson and Manish Pandey with his googlies.
Before departing, Pandey gave an exhibition of some delightful strokeplay and proved that there are no demons in the pitch for a batsman prepared to apply himself. He strung another handy partnership with David Warner who was out trying to play the pull shot against Thomas. The first of the many victims who were dismissed trying to play the same shot.
Vijay Shankar never looked in, and was the next batsman to go trying to play the pull shot against Varun Aaron this time. In the final four overs, almost everything was short or off pace. Rajasthan knew this pitch well and with the extra pace their bowlers possessed short of a length was always awkward to negotiate on this pitch. The long boundaries at Jaipur also meant that a mistimed shot against a slower ball is likely to fall in the hands of a deep fielder.
No one executed these plans better on the day than Jaydev Unadkat. His control over the slower balls is the reason his stocks grew in this league. He probably bowls one of the best slower off cutters, the perfect ball for this pitch. While the knuckle ball was still effective if disguised well, it could still sit on the pitch and a set batsman could take liberties against it. The slower off cutter bowled at the right length and dug in hard was gripping on the pitch and making run scoring incredibly hard.
Unadkat claimed Hooda next courtesy another slower ball and a sharp return catch. Crucially, Rajasthan were taking their catches even if their ground fielding was sloppy. Another quick bumper from Thomas claimed Saha. Shakib and Bhuvneshwar succumbed to slower balls from Unadkat and Aaron taking the total to 6 wickets to seamers on the day, all coming off slower balls or bouncers. The plan was well laid out and well executed by the bowlers. On a pitch where totals in excess of 175 and 191 were chased in the last couple of games, 160 was a below par total.
Hyderabad bowlers also started accurately and bowled stump to stump on a good length. But it was the kind of predictable length that batsmen can line up if they are prepared to move in the crease. Rahane and Livingstone did exactly that and took their team off to a flier. Even the mighty Rashid Khan got some punishment in the Powerplay ad both Rahane and Livingstone slog swept him over the boundary rope.
When Livingstone and Rahane departed, the platform was laid for Smith and Samson to finish the game in a canter. They hardly played a rash shot in their partnership and exploited the large outfield at Jaipur by hitting the ball in the gaps to either collect a boundary, or run hard to collect two’s.
The fact that the most comprehensive win of the season for Rajasthan came on a night when three of their star performers were missing is a tribute to the value of making simple plans and their clinical execution. It was the seam bowling that stood out once again in this game for Rajasthan. Aaron had won man of the match in their last win against Mumbai and Unadkat got it after the win against Hyderabad. Thomas is looking fit, pacy and eager to make a mark. The seam bowlers coming together as a unit make Rajasthan a dangerous side now for their remaining two games. Their real test will now come on the flat pitch and shot boundaries at Bangalore where they play their next game.