Chasing a formidable score of 170, it was Rajasthan Royals’ skipper Ajinkya Rahane who had silenced the 56,000-strong Eden Gardens crowd during the powerplay. The 29-year-old was piercing the gaps on the field with ease and even cut Andre Russell for a magnificent six over the point boundary.
At 47 for no loss after five overs, Rajasthan were in the driver’s seat. Then, Piyush Chawla, who had his best game of the Indian Premier League on Wednesday sent Rahul Tripathi packing. The tide changed direction and Kolkata seized the initiative despite not being among the wickets.
Even a fluent strokemaker like Sanju Samson was tied up by a gleeful Chawla and Kuldeep Yadav making full use of the spin-friendly conditions.
Though the KKR bowlers have be given credit for their display, Royals’ skipper Rahane definitely has to take the blame for failing to take the team home after the start they got.
Once the field was spread and the spinners got into action, Rahane and eventually the whole batting unit was back in familiar terrority – getting bogged down in the middle overs at a stage when boundaries were the need of the hour.
Rahane scored the last 22 of his 46 runs from 25 deliveries and by the time Kuldeep put him out of his misery, the inaugural IPL winners needed a daunting 61 from the last 35. Rajasthan’s fragile middle-order was exposed once again as they limped to a 25-run defeat to make their way through the exit door.
Same old story
The Royals were fortunate to have made it to the play-offs and for much of this contest, Rahane had hardly put a foot wrong. As a fielding team captain, he attacked relentlessly after sending Kolkata Knight Riders into bat: there was a slips even in the second half of the KKR innings. He even deployed a forward short-leg in search of wickets. That of course, was before his opposite number Dinesh Karthik and a belligerent Andre Russell put the bowlers to the sword in the death overs.
But it was the batting that once again hurt the former champions. And their travails this season came right at the top of the batting order. Their season started with Rahane opening with D’Arcy Short. But the team truly found their footing in the tournament when Englishman Jos Buttler was promoted up the batting order. Buttler leaving for international commitments meant that Rahane was back as opener once again.
One of the many lessons that we have learnt during this IPL is that tempo is everything while batting in the first six overs. KL Rahul, Sunil Narine, Suryakumar Yadav, Ambati Rayudu have shown exactly what an opener needs to bring to table.
Shifting gears effortlessly and throwing an element of surprise to upset the bowler’s rhythm is now a prerequisite. The other route is Narine’s, who makes up for his static footwork with striking abilities that will put a baseball player to shame.
Rahane’s approach here looked dated and the flak that he got for his approach outside the powerplay overs was a recurring theme. Some naysayers may have even wondered if he would have been part of the playing XI had Steve Smith played.
And a strike rate of 118.21 will not do him any favours. The Mumbai batsman, recently, received yet another setback after being left out of India’s limited-overs side that will tour Ireland and England. A crippling blow that can’t be sweetened even after being India’s captain during Afghanistan’s first ever Test match next month.
Rahane and Samson tried to make up for the lack of big hits with a few quick twos but the team needed a couple of big hits to keep the pressure on the KKR bowlers.
The skipper admitted that the team could not keep up the pressure and there game plan to try and not lose wickets early did not bore fruits in the business end of the innings.
“After the first six overs we were 50 for 1 [51 for 1] and after the second time out, we needed 60 runs,” he said. “When you have eight or nine wickets in hand, you generally end up getting those runs. The plan was to go deep when me and Sanju were batting. After the second time-out, I just told him that I’ll play some positive shots and that if he’s still there, he should just try and bat deep,” he said in the post match conference.
Rahane failed to gain any momentum despite his efforts and even South African wicket-keeper Heinrich Klaasen could not score against the like of Chawla and Kuldeep despite his stated prowess of batting against spinners.
The skipper, however, defended the South African saying hindsight is never kind to the team that loses.
“[Heinrich] Klaasen is a very good batsman and he did really well in the last game. It’s difficult when you don’t get those runs - you try and think about what if K Gowtham had come in at that number [four]. But see, we backed Klaasen. He tried his best. KKR’s bowlers, especially their spinners, were really good. I didn’t think the strategy was wrong there. Gowtham has batted well at No. 6 or No. 7.”
Whatever, Rahane says there is no denying the fact that it was the lack of adventurism in the batting that ultimately cost the team a spot in the Qualifier 2.