At the end of match No 9 of Indian Premier League 2020, which was less than two weeks ago, Rajasthan Royals were in second position on the points table, behind Delhi Capitals only on net run-rate. These two teams were the only undefeated ones at that point.
Not many looked at Rajasthan as contenders for the title at the start of the tournament. But they had done well to get there. They had two special wins in two games and looked determined to make a mark.
It was their batting that was clicking. In the first game against Chennai Super Kings, they conceded 200 runs, but Sanju Samson had ensured they had made 216 batting first. And in the second game against Kings XI Punjab, they leaked 223 runs bowling first, but Samson and Rahul Tewatia helped them achieve the highest run-chase in IPL history.
However, as promising as the Royals looked back then, their campaign is in a delicate spot at the moment.
Rajasthan suffered their fourth straight defeat on Friday as they went down to Delhi Capitals by 46 runs. Far from marching towards a playoff birth, the men in pink are close to being ruled-out as contenders.
In the post-match presentation ceremony on Friday, Michael Slater pointed out that the commentators reckoned the Rajasthan Royals bowlers did a good job restricting Delhi Capitals to 184, which was the first time a team batting first in Sharjah hadn’t got to 200.
Skipper Steve Smith’s response to that, though, was strange. He said at the presentation ceremony: “They [RR bowlers] did a reasonable job. I think we let a few away at the end, poor execution and things like that. We probably let them get 10-15 runs too many, to be honest with you.”
This, after Rajasthan had been bowled-out for 138 (reminder: at Sharjah) and lost the match by 46 runs. Smith may not have come down heavily on the batting department but the fact of the matter is that that’s where the problem lies for his team.
In the four matches that they’ve now lost on the trot, it is the batting that’s let them down. Against Delhi Capitals, not a single Rajasthan batter made a meaningful contribution. The pitch was slower than the ones seen in Sharjah earlier in the tournament, as mentioned by both captains after the match, but the fact that RR weren’t in the chase at any point whatsoever is telling.
In their first defeat of the season, against Kolkata Knight Riders, Rajasthan finished with 137/9 chasing 175. In the next game against Royal Challengers Bangalore, they could get to just 154/6 batting first. And then against Mumbai Indians, they were bowled-out for 136 chasing 194.
What seems evident is Rajasthan’s over-dependence on their top-order. In the two games they won at the start, Smith and Samson both got half-centuries. In the defeat to Mumbai Indians, Jos Buttler got 70 of the 136 runs scored by the entire team.
Having three world-class batsmen in the XI isn’t insufficient, but the problem for RR is that their three stars aren’t showing consistency.
Apart from his knock against MI, Buttler hasn’t done much with the bat so far. Smith looked like he would play anchor for his team this season but he has lost his touch after the first two games. And Samson, as he did in seasons gone by, has failed to capitalise on a strong start. He hasn’t even got a double-digit score in the last four games.
Later, Smith did come clean about Rajasthan’s struggles with the bat when he spoke at the press conference on Friday night.
“There’s plenty of areas we need to work on. Our batting probably hasn’t been good enough. The top three-four batters haven’t got big scores in the last four games, which has been disappointing. We need to address that, get better there,” he said.
Tewatia’s form down the order and Ben Stokes’s arrival bode well for the Royals. But the likes of Yashasvi Jaiswal, Robin Uthappa, Riyan Parag and Mahipal Lomror not doing enough is hurting them. While contributions from these batsmen will be welcome, what Rajasthan would really want is their big guns to fire. Either way, they need to find a solution quickly.