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Buttler & Archer have been key to Royals' success

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Jofra_Archer_Jos_Buttler_IPL_Rajasthan_Royals_England_CricketIt wasn’t the usual Moneyball story when Rajasthan Royals were rebuilding their team at the 2018 auction. They were making a comeback after a 2-year exile and it seemed the management wanted to go ahead with a clean slate this season, despite their old slate having seen them script some phenomenal IPL performances courtesy of some brilliant team effort and efficient utilization of resources.

The auctions saw the Royals splash the cash as they claimed Ben Stokes for Rs.12.50 crore, Jaydev Unadkat for Rs.11.50 crore, Sanju Samson for Rs.8 crore, Jofra Archer for Rs.7.20 crore, Krishnappa Gowtham for Rs.6.20 crore, and D’Arcy Short, Ajinkya Rahane and Jos Buttler for about Rs.4 crore. This came as a surprise to many, as few had anticipated ruthless bidding and big spending from the traditionally thrifty Royals.

On 9th April, 2018, the Royals were up against a formidable Sunrisers Hyderabad side in their first game of the season. A lot was expected from the star-studded side that saw BBL sensation D’Arcy Short make his debut. A run out and a Siddarth Kaul wicket later, the Royals were tottering. Samson did hold up one end, but kept losing partners at the other. Last season’s sensations, Stokes, Buttler and Rahul Tripathi, all fell for low scores and Rajasthan ended up being suffering a 9-wicket loss to the Kane Williamson-led side.

In the next game against Delhi Daredevils, Rahane and Samson got runs, but the big bucks signings failed yet again, though the rain and some poor Delhi batting helped the Royals win the curtailed game.

Next up was the “Royal” battle as Royals came up against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Bangalore, already struggling in the tournament, were dealt further blow as a swashbuckling 92* from Samson saw the Royals post a huge total. The Challengers were never really in the game. Stokes and Buttler did play cameos, but again didn’t do justice to their price tags.

The Royals persisted with D’Arcy Short at the top of the order, and they continued to struggle as the Aussie never got going, bogging down the Royals run rate. The team lost the next couple of games, despite trying Klaasen at the top of the order.

The game against Mumbai Indians did see Stokes get runs, but it was Gowtham’s brilliance at the end that guided the Royals to victory. But their opening struggle was getting worse as the third pair failed – this time Tripathi being the one who failed to complement Rahane.

Gowtham’s heroics hogged the limelight, but the real positive for the Royals came in the form of Jofra Archer. The Barbadian-born quick took care of the Royals’ death over woes, giving away just 22 runs while picking up 3 scalps.

Archer’s magic continued into the next game as he ended up with figures of 3/26 from his 4 overs against the Sunrisers. But a rather slow knock from Rahane and no real contribution from anyone barring Samson saw them lose yet another game.

Other pieces of the jigsaw seemed to be fitting for the Royals, but the missing bit to complete the puzzle was the lack of contribution from Buttler and Stokes in the middle and lower middle order.

But a change of tactics from Rajasthan Royals due to another rain-affected match against Delhi laid the base for the change in their fortunes. With a big total to chase in just 12 overs, the Royals sent out their trump card Jos Buttler to open the innings. The Englishman got going straightaway and struck a 26 ball 67, almost seeing the Royals through.

Some might have thought it was a one-off move, but Buttler came out to open again and struck yet another 50 in the next game.

The following three games saw Buttler score 82, 95* and 94*, winning the Royals three games on the trot and helping them mount their strong comeback. And though Buttler underperformed by his standards in the game against the Knight Riders, he still struck a fast paced 39.

Buttler’s average in the last 6 games has been 97.25. The Englishman has taken a great liking to opening for the Royals. They had been struggling to get good starts and finish games strongly; Buttler took to both roles with perfection, putting the Royals in good stead.

Though Royals have a number of openers in the side, they probably missed a trick early on as Buttler enjoyed a fantastic record as an opener. He scored 272 runs at an average of about 28 and a strike rate of over 150 for the Mumbai Indians last season. Anything similar for the Royals could have helped the side greatly.

But it wasn’t just Buttler who rose up to the occasion. Jofra Archer has been a key element for the Rajasthan Royals. Rahane has used the English quick well, bowling him at the top, in the middle of the innings and at the death. Archer was used as a wicket-taking bowler and the all-rounder has delivered with 13 wickets in 8 matches at a phenomenal strike rate of 14.23.

These two overseas game-changers have lived up to their price tags and been responsible for the change in the Royals’ fortunes. It remains to be seen how they will fare now that Buttler has been recalled to England.

 

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