IPL 2021: It's now or never for Royals

Ayaz Memon/Mumbai
Filed on October 1, 2021
MS Dhoni’s captaincy has been top class. — BCCI

Sanju Samson's team face a must-win situation in their remaining three games to have a chance of reaching the playoffs

Rajasthan Royals face a massive challenge against the unstoppable Chennai Super Kings who are on a four-match winning streak. CSK are batting and bowling superbly. While the team haven’t posted Himalayan scores, the bowlers have defended with zeal and resourcefulness.

MS Dhoni’s captaincy has been top class. The former India captain has not just got his tactics right, he has also been successful in motivating an ageing team dubbed ‘Dad’s Army’ at the start of the season.

There have been significant contributions from almost every member — Suresh Raina the only one going through a lean phase — which easily makes CSK the most impressive team over the past two weeks.

Young Ruturaj Gaikwad has been the stellar performer with bat. The opening batsman has this wonderful ability to read the length early and play strokes with precise timing.

But the 24-year-old Gaikwad is not resting on his laurels and has kept improving all the while, forging an opening partnership with Faf du Plessis that poses a serious threat to all teams.

Moeen Ali, used as an impact player at number three, has achieved that objective for Dhoni even if he doesn’t have several big scores against his name. He’s been able to maintain the momentum established by Gaikwad and Du Plessis, which means less pressure on the lower order.

In case of tough situations, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja and Dhoni have brought their experience into play profitably.

In the bowling department, Dwayne Bravo has exploited his wide repertoire of deliveries and improvisations to pick up wickets in the middle and death overs. Dhoni has a surfeit of pace bowlers to pick from — Sam Curran, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar and Lungi Ngidi. But the big boon has been Josh Hazlewood who has been picking up wickets regularly.

The Australian bowler rarely played last season and in the first phase this year. But he has now adjusted to effective length and line for the T20 format, using seam and cut to telling effect.

Jadeja and Moeen have shown their spin prowess, the former coming into his own on pitches offering help to slow bowlers.

Rajasthan Royals, in contrast, have not shown one-tenth of CSK’s consistency. They’ve been an ebullient, energetic bunch very exciting to watch when in full flow. But they are also terribly error-prone, capable of squandering advantage through a bad shot or two, dropping a vital catch or letting opposing batsmen off the hook through some loose overs.

True, the Royals are missing their three world-class players — Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Jos Buttler. But they need to get out of the hole with the team they have.

Facing a must-win situation in their remaining three games to have a chance of reaching the playoffs, the Royals would do well to take a leaf out of CSK’s book on how to play to one’s own strengths, exploiting the weakness of opponents through a thoughtful approach.

Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator

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