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Match Analysis

Royals, Kings, and a series of puzzling decisions

Rajasthan Royals ended up on the winning side in a game where both teams seemed to make it harder for themselves

Ashish Pant
"The games against Punjab in the last five years, I don't know what it is. Each and every game is very close. It is a very funny feeling. It was a very funny game."
Rajasthan Royals captain Sanju Samson was his cheerful self at the post-match presentation ceremony whipping out one-liners like he normally does. But, behind the smile, there was a sense of relief. The relief of getting over the line in a match neither team seemed to want to win.
Eventually, the team that probably made fewer errors did, in the penultimate ball of the game, while chasing 148, with Shimron Hetmyer and Rovman Powell needing to strike at 270.00 and 220.00 respectively.
This is not the first time that Royals and Punjab Kings have dished out a last-over thriller in the IPL. Before Saturday, each of the five previous encounters between the two sides had gone into the final over. For the longest time, the encounter in Mullanpur didn't look like it would but what was a slow burner for 35 overs or so, sprung to life in the final five.
Having restricted Kings to 148, the second-lowest first-innings score this season, Royals would have harboured hopes of an early finish and further consolidating their position at the top of the order. They did bag the two points but not before needing to dig deep and requiring a little help from the Kings bowlers.
"It was a game with a lot of errors and a lot of puzzling decisions both from a team perspective tactically, and also from an individual perspective," Tom Moody said on ESPNcricinfo's T20 Timeout show. "It was a poor quality game that gave us an exciting finish, but 90% of the game was a struggle to watch because it just didn't flow, it didn't sort of have any compass to it. Then suddenly we got into this back-end situation which should never have happened. That was through some unusual decisions from Rajasthan with their batting order and their approach with 148 to win."

Kings' lack of a proactive approach

In IPL 2024, Kings have the second-lowest run rate in the first ten overs - 7.75 - and have lost 17 wickets in this time, the highest of all teams. Three of the top six lowest powerplay scores this season also belong to Kings.
With regular captain Shikhar Dhawan out with a shoulder injury, Kings brought in Atharva Taide to open the innings. But he could only manage 15 off 12. Jonny Bairstow (15 off 19) and Prabhsimran Singh (10 off 14) also went nowhere with their innings. After an average powerplay where Kings scored 38 for 1, could they have promoted one of Liam Livingstone or the in-form Shashank Singh at No. 4 to try and give the innings some impetus?
They instead continued to have Sam Curran at No. 4, who since his 47-ball 63 in Kings' opening game hasn't had an innings of note in the competition. He scored 6 off 10 as the home side crawled to 53 for 4 after ten overs.

What's Tanush Kotian doing at the top?

With Jos Buttler out with a niggle, Tanush Kotian, a bowling allrounder, found himself opening the innings for Royals on IPL debut. It's puzzling because Kotian had never in his T20 (or List A) career batted above No. 8. He immediately looked out of depth against Kagiso Rabada and co, scoring 24 off 31 balls and striking at 77.41.
Samson had his reasons behind the Kotian promotion. "Tanush is a very interesting youngster. He came in as an all-rounder. He has had a fabulous Ranji Trophy season with Mumbai and he has been performing really well," Samson said. "He has been impressing all the coaching staff in the nets. We had a proper settled batting order after the opener, so we did not want to unsettle it and bring someone up the order just for one game. Jos is almost ready for the next game and we wanted to try him (Kotian) up the order."
But it was a move that could have easily backfired especially had Yashasvi Jaiswal's lean season continued. Which begs the question. Could Royals have instead sent Dhruv Jurel to open the innings? He has had limited batting time in IPL 2024, and with Shimron Hetmyer and Rovman Powell already in the playing XI, Royals could have given Jurel the license to go on the offensive up top.

Harshal's execution goes awry

With an overall economy rate of 10.54 in IPL 2024, which goes up to 15.00 in the death overs, Harshal Patel has had a horror start to his season. On Saturday, he had the chance to right his wrongs. Bowling the 18th over, he started by picking a wicket and conceding four runs off his first four balls leaving Royals needing 30 off 14. But then had an execution malfunction.
Hetmyer was presented with a back-of-a-length ball on middle which he first carted to the deep midwicket fence for four before helping a length ball on his hips over short fine leg for six. Two balls right in Hetmyer's wheelhouse and both pounded away. Royals had found a way back.
"The 18th over from Harshal Patel, a couple of his deliveries, for an experienced Indian death bowler was puzzling," Moody said. "Particularly that last ball which Hetmyer was always going to line-up and get a boundary off, and he bowled in the slot where Hetmyer if you asked him exactly where you want this ball, so you can hit for six, that's the one."
At the end of the day, Royals will say they have two points despite Buttler, R Ashwin and Nandre Burger not available. They have five wins out of six and a comfortable lead at the top of the points table, but at the back of their minds, they will know this could have gone pear-shaped. Their haphazard catching, their death-bowling woes, their middle-overs slowdown could all have come back to haunt them. But Kings had issues of their own, and that helped Royals get out of jail.

Ashish Pant is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo