So, six games into our comeback season and with the Rajasthan Royals in the middle of a weeklong break from active competition, it’s time to take stock. At times like this it’s often tempting to think, would we have settled for where we are now before the first ball was bowled and the first shot was struck? We are totally even stevens – won three (Mumbai Indians, Delhi Daredevils, Royal Challengers Bangalore) and lost three (Sunrisers Hyderabad, Kolkata Knight Riders, Chennai Super Kings). Some fans might be frustrated that we aren’t at the top of the table and bossing the league!
Others might be relieved that we are off the mark and not down at the bottom, especially considering that we lost our original skipper on the eve of the tournament and had to adjust our leadership team and batting line up quickly.
Pundits might argue that we are exactly where we belong – on the fringe of the play-offs but with all to play for, bearing in mind that we have been out of the game for two years and might take time to find our feet.
However, there is a strong argument that following the events of our last match, ‘Royalistas’ should be deliriously happy at the moment.
What are the Royals all about? 1. Exciting Cricket. 2. Giving youngsters a chance and 3. Never giving up – in the words of our great mentor Shane Warne, finding a “Way to Win”. Our fantastic victory over Mumbai Indians at Fortress Jaipur epitomised all three.
It was a real ding-dong battle against Mumbai. Initially we were well behind the black ball with the Indians openers going great guns. Then we pulled it back, with the help of some superb fielding and amazing bowling from Jofra Archer. The run chase started shakily, then steadied with some sensible batting from Stokes and Samson – and then faltered when they were out in rapid succession. As the overs ran down it looked like we were down and out – with a flurry of wickets falling and too many runs to get in a short amount of time. But cometh the time, cometh the young man, in the form of Krishnappa Gowtham.
When Krishnappa walked out to bat, Rajasthan had lost three wickets in the space of five deliveries and the innings was falling apart, but the youngster took the match situation totally in his stride. He went for a ‘see ball – hit ball’ approach and pulled it off magnificently. The tall bowler dispatched the ball to all parts of the ground, ending on 33 from just the 11 balls, winning the game for Rajasthan and potentially transforming their tournament.
“It was only one win” you might say – but sport is all about momentum. Going into the mid-season break, won 2 lost 4 and in the doldrums of the table would have been demoralising for fans, players, and management alike - especially losing a match we should have won to our arch rivals Mumbai.
Failing in a run chase again would have had us on tenterhooks every time the coin was tossed – dreading having to bat second after repeated failures. But one spectacular innings has totally changed that dynamic. Yes, we can chase! Yes, we can win games from disastrous positions! And Yes, we have potential match winners in all corners of the dressing room!
Two stars emerged that Sunday night – Archer and Gowtham, but there is also much to be admired in other areas of the team. Sanju Samson has taken to this tournament like a duck to water, scoring four significant innings out of six knocks. Skipper Rahane has marshalled his troops with calm aplomb and Jos Buttler has kept wicket and batted with calm composure. And what confidence the Englishman has – often getting off the mark with reverse sweeps!
Some of our bigger players seem to be on the verge of great things – Ben Stokes is close and when he finally gets his eye in will surely win games for us singlehandedly. Unadkat, Tripathi, Short and Klaasen haven’t had much luck yet, but surely their time will come. When they come into form imagine how strong our team will be!
There are areas for improvement (e.g. slip catching, more penetrative bowling and finding an opening batting pair which complements each other) but our three wins have all been achieved in hugely contrasting ways – a hugely entertaining run chase (MI), a monumental first innings which set a target the opposition could never exceed (RCB) and a victory influenced by Duckworth Lewis needing very calm heads from the bowlers (DD). All those wins and the different ways they were achieved should give us real confidence going forward.
The Royals are still very much in the mix, which is what all IPL teams want at this stage, and a couple of wins against Hyderabad and Delhi after the break will see us nicely in the play-off positions, thank you very much. After that, a spoonful of luck cooked up with some star quality from our international players and more cameo spectaculars from our lesser known starlets could be the recipe for success, ten years after we last wore the IPL crown.