The Sunday doubleheader started with RR and SRH at Dubai- the ground whose disproportionate square boundaries have been used strategically by shrewd captains in this season of IPL. An afternoon clash meant that the dew effect would not be there in the second half of the inning and it was a no-brainer that Warner would choose to bat after winning the toss.
RR made a few positive changes to the lineup. The most important of them was that Superman Stokes was back in the team after his quarantine got over. Yashasvi Jaiswal looked to be out-of-place last match. He needs to spend a few more matches on the sidelines to play comfortably at this level. The experienced Uthappa came in place of Jaiswal and the high-potential Parag replaced Lomror. I was not particularly sure about Unadkat as I felt that Aaron would have been a better option with his extra pace on the Dubai surface.
Smith took a few good decisions in the powerplay, to begin with. From the last match, he realized that Jofra needs to bowl in the powerplay to set up the tone of the match. Today with Jofra he introduced Tyagi in the powerplay. I have been stating in my blogs for a long time, that Tyagi and Jofra should be the opening bowlers for RR and it was good to see finally Smith taking the correct decision. As if to validate Smith’s correct decision, Tyagi scalped the valuable wicket of Bairstow in the 5th over of the match, caught at deep backward square leg.
Warner and Pandey quickly realized that the pitch is slowing down with every passing second and a score of 160 will be an above par target on this pitch, especially with Rashid Khan in their team. Warner and Pandey started consolidation, playing risk-free cricket and scoring at 7-8 runs per over. The duo was particularly severe on the RR spinners as both Shreyas Gopal and Rahul Tewtaia erred in length on the fuller side of the pitch. It was good to see Manish Pandey getting a half-century after a string of 20s in the last few matches.
Warner and Pandey took SRH to a good base fo 96 in 14 overs. With 2 set batsmen at the crease, a minimum of 170 was on the cards. That is when Warner did something inexplicable. Smith realized that with 2 set batsmen in the slog overs, it would be difficult to contain SRH. Hence, he brought back Jofra for an over to break the partnership. Despite being absolutely aware of this strategy, Warner suddenly exposed all his sticks to RR’s premier fast bowler, in a bid to slog him over deep midwicket. The full pacy Jofra delivery crashed into Warner’s stumps giving RR the wicket they were looking for.
Pandey hit a few lusty blows off Tyagi and Tewatia and ultimately fell Undakat in the 18th over. With the score at 123 at the end of 18 overs and two new batsmen at the crease, SRH was staring at a below-par total. This is exactly when the SRH batting received the much needed Williamson boost. He hit a couple of outrageous sixes off Jofra in the penultimate over to take 19 from the same. Particularly the exquisite pull he played to a 150 kmph bouncer from Archer over deep backward square leg, was one for the ages.
Archer bowled at a different level today with his mix of yorkers, bumpers, and deceptively slower deliveries. In fact, before Williamson took 19 off his final over, he conceded only 6 runs from his 3 overs with the valuable wicket of Warner in his kitty. The other bowlers for RR did not look penetrative today. As a result, an exceptional Williamson & an increasingly impressive Garg ensured that SRH reaches an above par target of 158 in their 20 overs.
RR started their 2nd inning with a recipe for disaster. I exactly know what Smith is trying to do with the batting order of his team. He wants his best batsmen to face the maximum no. of deliveries. That is an alright strategy, but he has to keep in mind that RCB has misfired with this strategy year after year. With the intention of Kohli facing the maximum deliveries, he started opening for the men in red, a couple of seasons ago. De Villiers would come in at 3. The problem was that this was a high-risk strategy. More than once, both Kohli and AB were dismissed inside the powerplay, and RCB was left to negotiate the rest of the overs with a feeble middle order
Smith is doing the same mistake for RR this year. Tonight, he put Stokes and Butler to open the inning for RR. Unfortunately, the apprehension turned out to be true as Stokes got played on by Khaleel in the 2nd over. Smith came out at 3 and got runout trying to take on the arm of Vijay Shankar in the 4th over. In the very next over, Butler inside-edged one to the keeper of the bowling of Khaleel. Even before, the chase has begum the RR batting got disintegrated.
Khaleel looked excellent in the powerplay today. The pitch suited his kind of bowling as he banged the ball into the surface and used the two-paced nature of the wicket. I have talked a lot about the wily Natarajan, who has impressed me beyond imagination. Today, he did the most unthinkable of all acts. He bowled a maiden over to Sanju Samson inside the powerplay. Natarajan needs to take more responsibility, going forward, especially with the absence of Bhuvi from the SRH lineup.
Both Samson and Uthappa had an opportunity to be the hero for their team. Like Uthappa and Samson had done throughout their careers, they wasted this huge opportunity as well. Uthappa went on the backfoot against a good length delivery off Rashid Khan- a criminal offense for somebody who has played so much of Rashid Khan in IPL. Samson could not pick leg-break and played for the googly to edge Rashid to Bairstow.
All looked done and dusted for RR is the 12th over, as they were reeling at 78-5. There is something about the twilight period of afternoon games at UAE that turns the matches on its head. Yesterday, KKR turned the match around against KXIP in the twilight period. Today RR found 2 unexpected heroes in the form of Tewatia and Riyan Parag. To be honest, I felt Tewatia’s exploits in the match against KXIP were a fluke. That is why in the match report I did not highlight much about it as well.
But today the maturity with which Rahul Tewatia built his inning and ultimately unleashed himself on the opposition, I must say he possesses excellent match finishing skills. In fact, both Riyan Parag and Tewatia did something that other teams could not capitalize on, against SRH. In the absence of Bhuvi, SRH death bowling is weak. However, after the departure of their Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, the teams SRH have faced, lose so many wickets to Rashid in the middle overs, that the weak death bowling of SRH was never exposed.
However, the newfound finishers of RR decided to take the game deep to exploit the weak death bowling of SRH. Rahul Tewatia cashed in on the weakest death bowler of the SRH team- Sandeep Sharma to begin his onslaught. He hit Sandeep for 1 six and 2 boundaries in the 17th over, to take 18 off the over, to turn the chase on its head.
The momentum shifted to RR in that over and Tewatia used the confidence from Sharma’s over to tear into Rashid Khan next over. He crashed Rashid through covers and backward point for 3 boundaries in the over. Khaleel and even Natarajan were taken to the cleaners by both Tewatia and Parag to complete an excellent win for RR.
SRH’s weak death bowling got exposed today. Another issue that hasn’t got exposed for SRH so far, is the lack of 5th bowler. Vijay Shankar has lent some credibility to the 5th bowler position, but on bad days oppositions can target him big time. SRH need to bring in Nabi and bat him higher up the order if they want to make a mark against strong oppositions. As for RR, Smith needs to get his batting order right. Stokes is best suited at 4, with Samson and Butler opening the batting. RR has had a morale-boosting win today and hopefully, they will carry forward their form going forward.