Rajasthan Royals elect to bat and leave out D’Arcy Short

Toss Rajasthan Royals chose to bat v Kings XI Punjab. Ajinkya Rahane approached Rajasthan Royals’ do-or-die situation with a radical approach, choosing to bat first against R Ashwin’s Kings XI Punjab on a near-41-degree-Celsius evening. It was only the fourth time a captain had chosen to bat this season. Royals made three changes to the XI that had lost to Kings XI in Indore two nights ago. They brought in allrounders Stuart Binny and Mahipal Lomror, alongside legspinner Ish Sodhi. D’Arcy Short, Shreyas Gopal and Rahul Tripathi were left out. Rahane said the pitch was “good” and he was happy to defend on it, while Ashwin looked more uncertain at a toss he said he was happy to lose. He didn’t think there would be too much bounce in the surface and said it might not be conducive to chasing. Kings XI dropped out-of-form batsman Mayank Agarwal and brought in Akshdeep Nath, while seamer Mohit Sharma returned from injury to replace Ankit Rajpoot.

Rajasthan Royals: 1 Jos Buttler (wk), 2 Ajinkya Rahane (capt), 3 Sanju Samson, 4 Ben Stokes, 5 Mahipal Lomror, 6 Stuart Binny, 7 K Gowtham, 8 Jofra Archer, 9 Anureet Singh, 10 Ish Sodhi, 11 Jaydev Unadkat.

Kings XI Punjab: 1 Chris Gayle, 2 KL Rahul (wk), 3 Akshdeep Nath, 4 Manoj Tiwary, 5 Karun Nair, 6 Marcus Stoinis, 7 Axar Patel, 8 R Ashwin (capt), 9 Andrew Tye, 10 Mujeeb Ur Rahman, 11 Mohit Sharma.

Rajasthan Royals 158 for 8 (Buttler 82, Tye 4-34, Mujeeb 2-21) beat Kings XI Punjab 143 for 7 (KL Rahul 95*, Gowtham 2-12, Sodhi 1-14) by 15 runs. Rajasthan Royals kept their tournament alive with an astute defence of 158 engineered by spinners K Gowtham and Ish Sodhi, who took a combined 3 for 25 in seven overs even as KL Rahul made a skillful unbeaten 95. Only one other Kings XI Punjab batsman got into double-figures on a pitch where the only other 30-plus score had come from Royals’ opener, Jos Buttler, whose 82 was his his fifth half-century in six of his last T20 innings as an opener. Royals had elected to bat on an evening where the temperatures came close to hitting 41 degrees Celsius, conditions that became more and more impactful through the evening and made scoring runs progressively tougher.

One of the features of Rajasthan Royals’ batting this year has been a forced squeezing of regular opening batsmen into the middle order. On Tuesday, it was clear why. On dropping D’Arcy Short and Rahul Tripathi, it emerged that the best of their batting ended at No. 4 with Ben Stokes. Stuart Binny and Mahipal Lomror, the men who came in, had only played one game each before Tuesday.

When these teams last met, only two nights ago, Royals had been sitting on 81 for 2 at the halfway stage, only to finish with 152 on the smallest IPL venue. On Tuesday, the same batsmen – Buttler and Samson – had taken them to 82 for 2 in ten overs, before the same pattern unfolded. There was, however, an attempt to bat as deep as possible. On this occasion, wary of the lack of power-hitters down the order, their third-wicket stand lasted till the 15th over. In the process, a thunderous start – where they had made 63 in the Powerplay – was undone. It was a partnership of 53 that took 48 balls, and didn’t appear like a valuable addition.

R Ashwin, who bowled a lot of spin in the first ten overs of their last two games, chose to bowl mostly pace up front on this occasion. Five of the six Powerplay overs were bowled by the seamers, and the major differences in scoring rates between the early overs and the middle phase were down to this.

Buttler feasted, as he usually does, on the back-of-a-length deliveries he got early on, slapping them over the bowler and extra cover at will. He made a stunning 45 runs in the Powerplay and brought up his fifty off 27 balls; a crucial stat in retrospect, because he barely managed to go run-a-ball from that point. Mujeeb Ur Rahman, who took three wickets off four balls in the previous game, got Samson and Buttler off consecutive overs on Tuesday. Andrew Tye took three in the last over and Royals finished with 158 for 8.

When Rahane elected to bat, it was only the fourth occasion on which a captain had done it this season. Ashwin had seemed unsettled when asked to chase, saying it didn’t look like a pitch that would aid the team batting second. Both captains were right with their assessments, although it took some time before that came into evidence. The pitch didn’t play a part when Chris Gayle stepped out and missed a flatter one from Gowtham that went down leg side. It wasn’t the pitch either that induced swipes across the line from both Ashwin – who came in at No. 3 – and Karun Nair, reducing Kings XI to 19 for 3.

When the Powerplay was done, however, scoring became extremely difficult for Rahul and Akshdeep Nath. In the six overs immediately after the Powerplay, Sodhi bowled three and conceded only eight runs. Opting to hit a good length with a lot of flight as opposed to his usual preference of throwing in plenty of variations, the legspinner had the batsmen attempting a lot of ambitious heaves before they decided to play straight. Even then, he was practically unscoreable against. By the end of the 12th over, Nath and Manoj Tiwary were both gone and the score was 66. Rahul brought up his fifty with a front-foot pull through midwicket in the 14th over, but in the face of a required rate that had already hit 12, neither him nor Marcus Stoinis could find a single boundary for the next three overs.

By the time Rahul had figured out a way to find the boundaries on this pitch, the chase had gotten out of hand. He hit boundaries on either side of the keeper towards the end, including two reverse-sweeps off Unadkat, and jumped from 66 to 95 in the last two overs. But the story of the night was that at the other end: the only other batsman to make double-figures for Kings XI had taken 16 balls to make 11.