Rajasthan Royals look to arrest dangerous slide

May 09, 2023 09:17 PM IST

Samson's side won four of their first five games in IPL 2023 but since then, they’ve tasted defeat in five out of six outings

As captain on the field, Sanju Samson does well to maintain a stoic demeanour for the most part. He doesn’t give animated reactions like, say, Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma, and tends to have a firm grip on his emotions.

Rajasthan Royals' Sanju Samson (L) and Jos Buttler run between the wickets during the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match (AFP)
Rajasthan Royals' Sanju Samson (L) and Jos Buttler run between the wickets during the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match (AFP)

However, after RR’s last defeat against Sunrisers Hyderabad – their sixth in Indian Premier League 2023 – it was evident that Samson, understandably, wasn’t in a great mood. His team had lost despite posting a formidable total of 214/2, as SRH smashed 43 runs in the last two overs.

In the post-match interview, Samson was asked if he was happy with the target they had set for SRH. His answer was brutally honest: “We can only be happy with the target we posted if we win the game, right? So, not at all happy at the moment.”

The interviewer, though, stumped him by asking this as the follow up question: “Do you feel you should’ve got more then?”

This time, Samson took a second for a deep breath and with a wry smile, said this: “That’s a great question. I don’t know actually, yeah.”

One couldn’t judge Samson for his curt response, or the immense dejection he was clearly feeling. Rajasthan were at the top of the points table not long ago. Having finished as runners-up last year, they won four of their first five games in IPL 2023 and seemed certain to reach the playoffs again. But since then, they’ve tasted defeat in five out of six outings and are on a three-match losing streak.

There has been a variety in RR’s five latest defeats. Against LSG and GT, they could only manage totals of 144/6 and 118 respectively. RCB restricted them to 182/6 and won by seven runs. While MI’s win was similar to the SRH one, with RR positing 210-plus totals only for the opposition to blast them away in the last few overs.

One of the main concerns for RR is their over-dependence on openers Jos Buttler and Yashasvi Jaiswal, who are among the top run-getters this season. They have shuffled the middle order too much and the likes of Samson, Devdutt Padikkal, Shimron Hetmyer, Riyan Parag, Dhruv Jurel, Jason Holder and R Ashwin haven’t contributed enough as a unit.

Hetmyer’s lack of runs, in particular, have hurt the Royals. The West Indies dasher started the tournament on a bright note, scoring 183 runs in the first five games with four unbeaten knocks. But he has managed just 35 runs in the last six matches and remained not-out on one occasion.

Rajasthan’s use of the Impact Player, too, has left a lot to be desired. They’ve betrayed a lack of clarity and not made the most of this option. They’ve consistently brought in the impact sub too late and at times, not used the player optimally either. For instance, against SRH, they brought in Obed McCoy in the 37th over of the match and gave him just one over. Kuldip Yadav was tasked with bowling the all-important 19th over and the uncapped pacer ended up leaking 24 runs.

This brings us to the next point: RR have lacked a killer instinct and lost games they should’ve won. Tim David and Co hit 58 runs off the last 21 balls to help MI snatch victory, but it was the SRH game that showed RR aren’t being clinical enough. In fact, skipper Samson admitted as much after the game.

“You can never, never, never, never feel that you have won the game,” he said. “In terms of mindset, there might have been a change for a few seconds. You feel that the job is done and everyone was celebrating. That’s the nature of this game, right? You can’t step the line at that point.”

With the points table as tight as it is this time, RR are left with little room for error heading into their last three league games. Their opponents – KKR, RCB and PBKS – are also in similar boats and trying to sneak into the playoffs. On paper, RR remain one of the stronger sides with match-winners aplenty. But they’ve been pushed into a corner and as disheartening as it must be, they’ll need to respond quickly.

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