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The Rajasthan Royals batting muddle

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Rajasthan_Royal_batting_order_IPL_cricket“If I fail, promise me I won’t be forgotten. When a spot opens up, you will find me a place in the middle order,” Virender Sehwag is said to have told his supposedly 'insane’ skipper, Sourav Ganguly, when the hero from Kolkata asked Sehwag to open for India in Tests because the middle-order was too full.

Surely a hard hitting batsman was suited for playing lower down the order rather than against the brand new cherry. 8,000+ runs as an opener later, Sehwag would have been thanking his 'insane’ skipper for transforming him into a World Class Test opener and India’s best since Sunil Gavaskar.

Perhaps the Ganguly-Sehwag legend is a lesson for the franchise making a rather subdued return (unlike the other franchise that is returning to nail biting run-chases, political protests and lots of whistling) to the Indian Premier League after a two-year ban.

Led by the collected, unruffled Ajinkya Rahane, Rajasthan Royals have flown under the radar since making headlines for their two huge splurges at the auction: a ₹11.5 crore deal for Jaydev Unadkat and a ₹12.5 crore deal for Ben Stokes.

When the tainted Steven Smith copped a one year suspension, they set aside reputation and chose to be smart by offering Heinrich Klaasen a deal as replacement, the cricketing fraternity raved. Here was a franchise which had already showcased in the inaugural season that it didn't need big names to perform big.

Expectations were sky high as Rajasthan Royals took on a bowling-heavy Sunrisers Hyderabad in their first match of the season. The Royals were promptly rolled over. Apart from an enterprising 49 by the flashy Sanju Samson, Rajasthan had little to celebrate at the Rajiv Gandhi International stadium as a Williamson-led batting unit chased down a below par 126 without breaking a sweat.

That the Royals faltered against Siddharth Kaul and Shakib-al-Hasan further compounds their woes. Against Delhi Daredevils in their homecoming at Jaipur on Wednesday, Rajasthan showed glimpses of potential with the bat but never really fulfilled it. Once again there was the odd spark of brilliance from Samson but aside from that and the downpour that played spoilsport, the match was dry as the Sahara for Rajasthan.

In a power-packed batting line-up with a few big dynamite batters, what really went wrong?

They screwed up their batting order.

In their first two games, they sent in Big Bash hero D'Arcy Short to open alongside the sheet anchor of the side, Ajinkya Rahane. Both times, Short was run-out hopelessly and appeared rather fidgety. When you consider that the move was enforced by breaking the very successful pairing of Rahul Tripathi and Ajinkya Rahane that Rising Pune Supergiant enjoyed last season, things get perplexing.

Rajasthan have an excess of openers who are capable of batting at other positions. Jos Buttler came in at 6 and 5 in their three games while Tripathi came in at 5 and 6. Ben Stokes came ahead of Sanju Samson in the first match at home but has played at no.4 everywhere else.

In a short batting line-up where Krishnappa Gowtham comes in at no.7, Rajasthan need better planning.

For one, they could open with Rahul Tripathi and Ajinkya Rahane and look to repeat Pune’s success last year. Sanju Samson has been greatly impressive, flamboyant and fiery, and should ideally continue at one drop. Despite his astounding 92* from 45 against RCB, he needs a talk from the coach on not throwing his wicket away at crucial junctures.

Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler at numbers 4 and 5 seem ideal. They bring in the much needed oomph to a batting line-up that might appear short on firepower once you remove D’Arcy Short from the top. Of course, Rajasthan could try blooding Short in the middle-order to ease him into the IPL before pushing him to no.3, but Heinrich Klaasen and his ice cool nerves deserve a spot in this line-up.

Klaasen at 6 behind Buttler provides a perfect blend of aggression with grit and could be a handful for teams that do manage to get past the pairing of Stokes and Buttler. Gowtham is possibly untested but at no.7, he seems to be batting at least one position too high. Stuart Binny could add a little zip to this line-up, and with Stokes as a bowling option, Rajasthan need not rely too much on Binny’s unbankable bowling.

Of course, the return of Jofra Archer could see him come in for D’Arcy Short. Or they could try blooding Ish Sodhi as the fourth overseas player, though they appear short on batting personnel and it might not be the best move to bench both D’Arcy Short and Klaasen.

A few tweaks in the batting line-up could potentially be a revolution for Rajasthan Royals’ 2018 season. With in-form guys in the batting arsenal, they have the cutting edge to topple bigger teams. But could they please rejig their batting order?

 

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