Bumrah finished with figures of 4 for 20 – the best of the season so far © BCCI
The last four batters of Rajasthan Royals have been impressive in this IPL. In 57 balls, they have scored 84 runs — an average and strike rate bettered by only their counterparts in Kolkata Knight Riders. While it bodes well that the lower order is able to contribute significantly in T20, it also exposes a larger issue at hand — the inability of the top and the middle order to take the onus.
Three games in a row — all three resulting in losses – Rajasthan Royals’ top order has collapsed early. More striking has been the manner of dismissal, especially that of Steven Smith, who has uncharacteristically looked to attack, irrespective of the merit of the ball and thrown his wicket away. That, despite having gained success in a more conventional style in the first two games of the tournament.
Jos Buttler, who was the sole standout performer with the bat for Royals in their defeat against Mumbai Indians on Wednesday, said that the failure of the top-order has been down to poor execution rather than the plan itself.
“We have just not managed to come up as a top order in the last three games,” Buttler admitted in the post-match press conference. “We’ve lost three wickets in the powerplay many times and in T20 cricket, you never win too many games from that position. Of course, in the powerplay you have to take advantage of the field restrictions As players, we just haven’t performed.”
Against MI, they found themselves reeling at 12 for 3 in the third over, with Yashasvi Jaiswal, Sanju Samson and Steve Smith back in the dug out. “They bowled really well. We never got into our innings. As a batsman, you’re always vulnerable early on in your innings. As a top order we never managed to counter their opening bowling well enough to get through that period.”
The plan that Buttler was talking about was to keep the angles straight to him, cram the scoring shots on the legside for Smith and pitch the ball short to Samson and force him to play square of the wicket. While Buttler survived, Samson fell to the plan and Smith failed in attempting to outfox the bowling team.
It didn’t help matters that Mumbai Indians decided to use the offensive skills of Jasprit Bumrah and sent him to operate with the new ball — unlike the recent trend. While there was a plan to surprise the opposition, it was also down to Bumrah’s keenness to bowl upfront, as Shane Bond, Mumbai Indians’ bowling coach, said.
“Jasprit genuinely wanted to take the new ball. So there was a discussion that went on last night and this morning,” Bond said. “We probably used him in a more defensive way – at the back end of the powerplay. There was a bit of grass around for him to nip it around. We knew Rajasthan’s key players were at the top of the order. We wanted to give him the opportunity to go out there, take the new ball and get us some wickets. Today, he was sensational.”
Bumrah returned impressive figures of 4 for 20 – the best of the season so far – as Royals were bowled out for 136, with 11 balls to spare in their innings, and as a result, it’s an arrangement the defending champions don’t mind continuing for the rest of the tournament.
“It takes four-five games for players to get back into the groove of things, the way we operate, the things we are looking for as a team. Jasprit, by his own admission, has done well. One or two overs, he hasn’t been as accurate as he wants to be.
“We had a discussion pre-game, he wanted to back his yorkers and go back to his strengths and use his bouncers as he normally does. That’s the strength of Jasprit, when he has a performance that he is totally happy with, he seems to bounce back to a new leave. I know traditionally through the IPL, he gets better and better as the tournament goes on. He is a key member for us. Obviously, the way we used him today with the new ball, we will use him like that throughout the tournament against the rest of the teams.”
While MI’s plans have come good so far, it will be an uphill task for Royals from here. The return of Ben Stokes brings good news but that still wouldn’t be enough to solve their top order woes. Buttler believes there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“Moving ahead, the top order is what we have to sort out and start playing well as a group. If you look at the first few games, the top order was really firing. It’s no coincidence that’s when you have success as a side. As a top order, we are always putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform and bat a lot of overs for our team,” he concluded.