Despite losing Jos Buttler, the league’s highest run-getter this season, in only the 3rd over and missing the services of Shimron Hetmeyer, who has the 2nd best strike rate among batters to have faced at least 50 balls at the death this IPL, the Rajasthan Royals managed to squash the Lucknow Super Giants by 24 runs on Sunday evening. Not only did this victory help the Royals trump the Super Giants to the 2nd spot on the points table, but it also exposed the vulnerabilities that had long gone unaddressed in LSG’s batting lineup.
Throughout the season, valuable contributions from KL Rahul and Deepak Hooda, in tandem with the resounding success of their bowling unit, have meant that LSG have been able to cross the line more often than not. And they have been able to do so without the fragility of their middle-order, which has been put to test on numerous occasions this season, needing extraordinary attention.
However, 2 consecutive losses that emerged from the underperformance of their batters meant that the inconsistent returns of their middle-order were immediately placed under the scanner. One of the foremost questions that Rahul was asked in this regard was about why Marcus Stoinis, who was one of their pre-auction signings, has not been sent to bat higher up the order.
“He has that brute force. We know that he can be dangerous at the back end, so we have tried to hold him back a little bit,” the LSG captain asserted, adding that they have given distinct roles to everyone in the batting order, with this being Stoinis’. The LSG opener did concede that for Stoinis and his designated finishing partner, Jason Holder, to be able to play their roles to perfection, the rest of the batting lineup must put on better performances to support them at the death.
While Stoinis has made constructive efforts batting at the death this season, with 109 runs at a strike rate of 191.2 in this phase, the Australian all-rounder has proven through his performances outside of the IPL that he has the mettle to excel at the top of the order as well. He averages 41.8 and strikes at 137.0 batting in positions 1-4 since 2019, and has played several seasons of the Big Bash League as a full-time opener.
With this versatility and recent form in mind, Rahul hinted at promoting Stoinis up the order, citing that they have been “flexible” about the roles they give to their batters, and that giving Stoinis more overs and time in the middle will allow him to more freely be the “dangerous Stoinis that he is.”
On the other side of the discussion surrounding flexibility in the batting order was the RR captain Sanju Samson, who has had a successful 2nd season as the team’s skipper, but an interesting year with the bat. He has scored more than 350 runs at a strike rate of more than 150, but his batting position has remained fluid throughout this IPL.
Elaborating on why he has shuttled between 3, 4, and 5 this season, and specifically, why he batted at the fall of the first wicket against LSG, Samson invoked the importance of taking a flexible approach to the batting order depending on the game situation, opposition, and how the pitch is playing on a given day. He highlighted that “as captain of the franchise, I need to be flexible,” signifying that he has taken to his senior position in the team with a necessary sense of responsibility. This attribute of his was also evident in his acknowledgment of the fact that “this was a crucial game, and I wanted to back myself a little and contribute more.”
Just like with LSG, the depth of RR’s batting lineup too has resisted severe scrutiny owing to the all-round excellence of Buttler and their strike bowlers. But the fluidity in their approach to middle-order batting, led by Samson, has helped them function astutely in most matches.
RR’s flexibility does not end simply with their batting order, though. The way Samson has utilized his bowling resources too has sparked curiosity, with his deployment of Prasidh Krishna in particular raising inquisitive eyebrows. On Sunday evening, Krishna bowled a 3rd over in the Powerplay and got the all important wicket of Rahul, turning the tide in RR’s favor.
When asked about the thought process behind giving Krishna the extra over, Samson once again called on the importance of playing according to the game situation. He stated– “Boult and Krishna have bowled well for us with the new ball throughout the tournament. The pacers seemed to be getting assistance today, and we thought that getting Rahul out before the Powerplay ends will be good for us. I would usually bowl Ashwin in that over, but I thought Krishna could deliver for us.”
And he did. Not only did his 3rd over produce a 3rd wicket in the Powerplay, but it also drew early curtains on the LSG batting lineup, which was then left with the uphill task of chasing 145 runs in the last 14 overs with half the artillery defused.
With the ebbs and flows typical of high quality, high voltage T20s that the IPL promises, the LSG-RR encounter added to the competition for the 3 playoff spots, and the allure of a top 2 finish, that are still up for grabs in the last week of the league stage. And with one game a piece left, LSG and RR will certainly hope to carry these takeaways from key moments of this match into their quest for a place in Qualifier 1.