Rajasthan Royals’ fortunes have turned upside down since their first two victories in Sharjah. Rajasthan Royals, who entered the IPL 2020 as the dark horses, notched up imposing wins against Chennai Super Kings and Kings XI Punjab, staking their claim as allegedly amongst the top draws to lift the trophy. The Royals managed to restrict CSK on a dewy pitch 16 runs short of the target and moved on to pull off a jailbreak for the ages against KXIP.
However, with the change in venue in the next two games, Rajasthan Royals have failed to alter their game plans. The buck begins with their skipper Steve Smith, who has not stuck to his usual accumulating style of batting in the last three games. He might be considered unfortunate against the Royal Challengers Bangalore when he got an inside edge that hit the stumps. However, against Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians, the skipper slogged his way recklessly, nicking in the process behind the stumps.
His aggressive tone as it needed in Sharjah worked as he began the tournament brilliantly by hitting two half-centuries. However, Smith needed to manoeuvre the strike in the other two venues, find gaps, and run swiftly between the wickets as the boundaries would have been hard to come by frequently. Equally under the pump is also Sanju Samson, who has not applied himself either and repeating the trend of falling apart after starting the competition brightly. Similar to Smith, Samson has not made it to double figures since the twin half-centuries in Sharjah.
While it rendered an off-colour Jos Buttler to return to form against Mumbai Indians, things could have slightly become interesting if even one of them faced more deliveries. What Smith and Samson have also not realized that it puts the batsmen below them under massive pressure with their tail beginning from number six. The messy composition has not even left room for David Miller, who is a proven talent in IPL even if his form has been below par in the last few seasons.
The mettle or potential shown by the likes of Rahul Tewatia, Tom Curran, and Mahipal Lomror have not received recognition too. And it is mainly due to the Royals’ three-match losing streak that has witnessed jaw-dropping capitulations of the top three. The trio could have sealed their status as finishers if the top three did enough. And instead, the heavy weightlifting and a vastly fresh job of crafting match-defining knocks have fallen on their shoulders multiple times. It would also be interesting to see how the opening pair shapes up moving forward, considering all three combinations have not yielded consistent results.
Hours before Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers consigned Rajasthan Royals to an eight-wicket defeat, Ben Stokes confirmed his availability for them. Ben Stokes indeed will walk straight into the side as when ready for selection; however, Royals’ woes run far more profound than the requirement of a miraculous game-changer. Firstly, Ben Stokes has not been as good a performer in IPL since he secured the man of the tournament award in 2017.
Secondly, Rajasthan Royals’ batting line-up’s current state requires the England all-rounder to pull off Headingley-like miracle on more occasions than one. It is harsh to expect from even as talented a cricketer like Ben Stokes, who has not played white-ball cricket since February and no competitive game since August. He will spruce the line-up nevertheless with not only his imperious batting skill.
The England all-rounder also brings for Smith is the ability to buy wickets out of nowhere as he has done in the Test arena on numerous occasions. Rajasthan Royals dearly need for a bowler, who could consistently assist Jofra Archer in building pressure from the other end. The other bowlers’ failure to suffocate the batsmen has resulted in the opposition batsmen handle Archer relatively well.
Lastly, being an extraordinary fielder, Stokes will bring the fielding side together, yet another department in which Rajasthan Royals need drastic improvement. It was visible when Robin Uthappa dropped a sitter from Sunil Narine of the Knight Riders and Tom Curran followed it by fluffing an equally simple take off Hardik Pandya’s bat. Their ground fielding has also been poor in various passages of play during these three games.
Hence, Ben Stokes does add plenty of value to their side. But Rajasthan Royals will have to play one more game before he becomes available for selection and might be another or two before Stokes begins hitting his straps. Whether or not Rajasthan Royals beat Delhi Capitals in the game in Sharjah, which has been their fortress so far; the last three defeats should have left a deep imprint and serve plenty of learnings.