Rajasthan Royals’s chances of qualifying for the Indian Premier League playoffs were once again on the ropes following Kolkata Knight Riders’s comfortable win by six wickets on Tuesday.
This means that their final group match, against Royal Challengers Bangalore, may well be shootout for a place in the last four with run rate coming into play.
Rajasthan looked like an underperforming team in freefall at the top end of the season. However, Jos Buttler’s pyrotechnics and better displays from their bowlers in recent games have ensured that their chances, just like four other teams in the fray, move to the final day of the round robin games.
Kolkata Knight Riders yet again showed nerves of steel during the chase. After Kuldeep Yadav’s brilliant burst through the heart of the Rajasthan batting order, Chris Lynn and Dinesh Karthik effortlessly worked out the opposition bowlers during the chase. The Kolkata captain, in particular, did his reputation no harm by taking his team over the line yet again, and hitting the winning runs.
Here’s what stood out in the game:
Kuldeep Yadav finally comes to the party
One year can be a lot of time in the world of sport. It was Sunil Narine and Piyush Chawla who were the main strike bowlers for their side in the years gone by. A lot has changed since March last year. Kuldeep Yadav earned his first Test cap, dethroned established limited-overs spinners for India, and became the wrecker-in-chief as Virat Kohli and Co rose to the top of the One-day International latter.
The left-arm wrist-spinner was tipped to take centerstage this year following his outstanding run during India’s facile wins in white-ball cricket in South Africa. Kuldeep, though, has been overshadowed by his spin counterparts throughout. Narine continued to be Kolkata’s go-to spinner.
In the last eight games leading up to this encounter, Kuldeep had only four wickets. With his quicker deliveries, he bamboozled Buttler and Rahane. Stuart Binny was out stumped, beaten in the loop and turn. As for Stokes, the 23-year-old went around the wicket and created a caught-and-bowled opportunity that he latched on to. Stokes’s penchant to drive on the up plotted his own downfall there.
“All I have to do is make sure he is turned on [when he comes on to bowl],” skipper Karthik said. “Sometimes he slacks off, bowls a bad ball trying too much so I’m just trying to make him do as well as he can and stay consistent.”
Kuldeep couldn’t have timed his return to form any better.
Ajinkya Rahane’s dismal run
Could Rajasthan have started any better? At the end of the third over, they had raced to 45/0 and were threatening to score as many as Kolkata did against Kings XI Punjab on Saturday. Rahul Tripathi, this time sent to open, and Buttler continuing his golden touch had Kolkata with their backs to the wall.
After Tripathi’s wicket, Rajasthan’s momentum dropped considerably. Even Buttler withdrew into a shell. But yet again, Rahane’s laboured stay proved to be the start of Rajasthan’s woes.
He struggled to get going and was outsmarted by Kuldeep. This has been the story of his tournament so far. After a couple of impressive starts at the start of the season, the Rajasthan skipper’s white-ball cricket nous is once again under the scanner. More so now after losing his place in the shorter formats for India.
There are question marks over his ability to change gears and farm the strike. The middle-overs has seen the worst of him, regularly getting bogged down by spin. Shuttling between the opening slots and the middle-order, Rahane’s 241 runs so far have come at a modest strike rate of 120.74. With Buttler and Stokes on their way out, Rahane has a greater responsibility to keep the scoreboard ticking in his side’s final group game.
Stokes, Buttler returning to England
To pour scorn over Rajasthan’s fortunes, two of their international lynchpins Stokes and Buttler bid goodbye as they return to England duties. Buttler has easily been one of the stars of the season and on Tuesday, came within touching distance of completing a one-of-a-kind sixth consecutive half-century.
Stokes, meanwhile, was a pale shadow of the game-changer he was for Rising Pune Supergiant last season. The New Zealand-born all-rounder ended things well in his last game, finishing with impressive figures of 4-1-15-3, giving his team a fighting chance of defending the low total.
However, Stokes came with a burgeoning reputation and a hefty price tag. His tally of 196 runs at 16.33 and eight wickets at 37.87 clearly shows that he struggled to get going. The same can’t be said about Buttler, who earned an England Test recall on the back of smashing 354 runs at 54.80, which included two unbeaten 90+ scores.
Where do Rajasthan go from here? They have big-hitting South African Heinrich Klaasen in reserve. Big Bash star D’Arcy Short may also make his way back even though he has endured a wretched time so far. Buttler’s starts at the top of the order will be sorely missed.
Pacers Jaydev Unadkat and Dhawal Kulkarni have hardly done anything of note so a lot will depend on Rajasthan’s batsmen putting on a show against Bangalore. Over to you, Sanju Samson.