From dominating the season-opener, pulling off thrillers, to losing some hard-fought contests and then bouncing back in style - IPL 2022 has been a rollercoaster at times for the Rajasthan Royals so far.
The typical ups and downs of the league mean that we’ve found ourselves in challenging situations at some stage in almost every game. They say it is times like these that bring out the true character of the team. And so far in these moments, this team has found the resilience and courage to absorb pressure and back their skills all the way, unafraid of the result that may lie ahead.
A fine example of the team’s mental fortitude was on display as early as in our second match of the season, against MI. Jos Buttler’s brilliant hundred propelled us to a highly competitive total, but on a good batting wicket with a short boundary on one side of the ground, it was still an uphill task for our bowlers. Ishan Kishan and Tilak Varma\"s counterattacking partnership kept Mumbai cruising in the chase, and at one point it looked like they would get there with ease. But the experienced Trent Boult and Ravichandran Ashwin inspired a turnaround just when things were looking bleak. In the 13th over, Boult tempted a well-set Kishan to hole out at deep backward square leg. Then on the first ball of the 15th over, Varma reverse-swept Ashwin for a six, but on the very next delivery, the wily off-spinner cleaned him up with a classic off-break.
After more Yuzvendra Chahal heroics, who delivered a double blow (almost a hat-trick!) with his tossed up leg breaks, 29 runs were needed off the last over. With Kieron Pollard on strike, the game was still not over. Having hurt his head while taking Kishan’s catch, Saini had walked off the field, casting doubt on his return. But the committed pacer came back to bowl a match-winning 20th over, conceding just five runs and getting rid of Pollard on the last ball.
Against LSG, a naturally explosive Shimron Hetmyer stepped out of his comfort zone to play the anchor role just when the team needed it. Batting first, we lost four quick wickets in the first 10 overs. Going against his natural batting style, Hettie slowly consolidated the innings alongside a promoted Ashwin, and the duo put up a crucial 50-run stand. He then went berserk in the final two overs to take the total to 165, also getting to his maiden fifty of the season. With the ball, Boult and Chahal were at their usual best, but it was the debutant Kuldeep Sen who displayed nerves of steel to bowl us to victory in the last over. With Marcus Stoinis raring to go and 15 runs to defend, Sen bowled three wide yorkers as dot balls and stifled the Aussie to help snatch a thriller.
In our second game against RCB in Pune, we found ourselves in a similar situation with the bat - four early wickets in 10 overs, in need of revival. This time, it was young Riyan Parag who rose to the occasion, showcasing his maturity with a gritty knock in challenging conditions. His unbeaten fifty gave our bowlers a total that may have been below-par, given RCB’s batting depth, but worth fighting for. And fight we did. A top-notch collective effort from our bowlers didn’t let the chase take off in the first place. Kuldeep Sen stole the show, dismissing Faf du Plessis and Glenn Maxwell to bag his first four-wicket haul in the IPL. Ashwin broke the middle order, Prasidh got rid of Virat Kohli, Chahal & Prasidh ran out Dinesh Karthik and RCB were bundled out for 115, chasing a target of 145.
Just when we thought we had seen enough nail-biting contests this season, our first of the two matches against KKR took us on an adrenaline-pumping journey. Jos’ scintillating hundred was followed by the Aaron Finch-Shreyas Iyer show, and it felt like the match was slipping away. Finch departed in the ninth over, but KKR had already crossed the 100-run mark and had the required run rate under control, with a lot of batting yet to come.
But we had Yuzi Chahal in our locker, and he cooked up an absolute storm in the crucial 17th over. First, he took out Venkatesh Iyer and then went on to claim his first IPL hat-trick (Shreyas, Mavi, Cummins) and five-for in the same over. The leggie, who had conceded a few in his first two overs, scripted a gutsy comeback to break the opponent’s back. KKR went from 178/4 to 180/8 in a span of six balls!
And then came Obed McCoy, shining through in his moment of glory. With 11 runs to defend, on debut, under pressure, he delivered the goods. Umesh Yadav was striking it big, but Obed held his nerve and unleashed his slower ones, taking the final two wickets and packing up KKR’s innings. Once again, skipper Sanju Samson trusted a debutant with the 20th over. Once again, his trust worked wonders.
Our game against DC was a high-scoring feast for both teams. Delhi put up a strong fight to chase a target of 223, and when Rovman Powell started the 20th over with a hat-trick of sixes, it looked like the game was remarkably slipping away from us, as Obed was fighting to find his rhythm. With 18 runs still left and a no-ball controversy in the opponent’s camp, the calmness of Sanju Samson came to the fore. Unaffected by the drama, he backed his bowler to complete his over, and the pacer kept his cool to deliver a sensational comeback. His next three balls read - 0, 2, W, and the Royals were jubilant!
But as they say, you learn more from failure than you learn from success. We’ve faced some hard-fought defeats so far, but in each of them, this team has given us glimpses of their character and the never-say-die attitude.
Our first loss of the season came against RCB, where our batters were confronted with a two-paced wicket. But Jos’ unbeaten fifty and Hetmyer’s late heroics helped us to a respectable score. Despite the dew kicking in early, our bowlers had the opposition at 87/5 by the 13th over. Gripping the ball became increasingly difficult but even then, Sanju refused to get the ball changed, a move that could have potentially aided his bowlers. When asked why he didn’t do it, he said, “I was confident about my bowlers.” His words in the post-match conference spoke volumes of his continued faith in his bowlers.
One of our biggest takeaways from this contest was the team’s ability to withstand pressure, especially when Dinesh Karthik and Shahbaz Ahmed were on the attack. There was no panic, the bowlers stuck to their plans and the skipper kept his belief. We lost the match, but not before putting up a genuine fight till the last over.
In our second game against MI, we were once again faced with difficult batting conditions. But it was Jos Buttler who played the defining knock, and his four sixes in an over off Hrithik Shokeen set us up for a 150-plus total. Then came our bowling unit, showing tremendous courage to dismiss half the batting side in return. It was a target that could have easily been chased well before the 20th over, but some tight overs in the middle helped take the game deep, keeping us in the hunt till the end. The star of this match was Ashwin, both with the bat and the ball. His big sixes were once again instrumental in ensuring a decent finish for us. And he followed it up with an impressive spell that saw him concede a solitary boundary.
Against KKR at the Wankhede, the lack of runs hurt us in the first innings. Yet again, it was the bowling unit that defended as if their lives depended on it. On a rare off day for the spinners, the pace attack came together, contained the runs and created some wicket-taking opportunities. The result may have been leaning towards KKR even before the match was over, but one couldn’t fault the Royals for their spirited effort, positive body language and high energy on the field, something that our captain pointed out in the post-match presentation.
And then against Punjab Kings, on a batting paradise at Wankhede, our bowlers were in for some hard work on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Punjab looked set for a 200-plus total, but it was the spin duo of Yuzi Chahal and Ravi Ashwin that applied timely brakes by dismissing the set batters at the right time. Prasidh Krishna then got rid of a dangerous-looking Liam Livingstone at the death, restricting Punjab to 189. Coming back into the team after a brief gap, Yashasvi Jaiswal then went on a rampage in the chase, scoring his first fifty of IPL 2022. He was brilliantly supported by Jos Buttler\"s hurricane cameo (30 off 16), and the Royals registered their highest Powerplay score of the season. The day didn\"t particularly belong to Devdutt Padikkal, but the youngster refused to give up and continued to anchor the innings by stitching crucial partnerships. The rest of the batting order followed suit and the Royals returned to their winning ways with a comprehensive 6-wicket win.
This is a team that refuses to give up. A team that fights for every inch, every ball, till nothing more is possible. It is a team that displays its steely resolve in the face of adversity, more so when the odds are stacked against them. We’ll win some, and we’ll lose a few too. But what’s truly remarkable is that every single player in the squad continues to show what it means to be a true Royal - putting their hands up when the team needs them, finding a way to win from any position, always believing in their abilities, giving their heart and soul in the middle, lauding the opposition on their day and leaving the field with more learnings than regrets.
This team is ready to leave behind bold and lasting imprints of their fighting spirit in every match, no matter what the result. And that’s all that we can ask for.