Is this going to be the day we finally see a captain winning the toss and opting to bat? If the coin falls Sanju Samson’s way against Gujarat Titans in Navi Mumbai, Rajasthan Royals may just do that. After all, their three wins – in four games – have come batting first, a promising start to IPL 2022 that has kept them top of the points table. A win on Thursday will keep them there. A loss will put their opponents at No. 1 for the time being.
With the ball, Trent Boult and Yuzvendra Chahal have led the way. Boult showed in Royals’ three-run win over Lucknow Super Giants that a par total could be defended if the new-ball bowler picks off a few in the powerplay. Chahal continues to take the wickets in partnership with R Ashwin through the middle overs, and takes them at a miserly economy rate too. Prasidh Krishna bowls in tandem with Boult and then again later, and young quick Kuldeep Sen showed on debut the other day why he is rated highly by the Royals management – he successfully defended 14 runs in the final over bowling to Marcus Stoinis on Sunday.
With the bat, Jos Buttler and Shimron Hetmyer have been making crucial contributions, Devdutt Padikkal is beginning to bloom after being promoted to the opening spot, and Samson has looked good without putting up a big score since the first game. However, there is a weakness that has been exposed a few times – the lower-middle order. At No. 6, Riyan Parag has not contributed much, and Ashwin at No. 7 is not the power player some teams want at that spot.
That’s one of the areas Titans should look to exploit, with wicket-taking bowlers operating through the middle overs. Lockie Ferguson – although expensive in his last game – has been bowling at over 145kph, Mohammed Shami is getting the new ball to move around, Rashid Khan has four bankable overs and Hardik Pandya is completing his quota. If these four have Royals on the mat early, then Titans’ Achilles heel – the fifth bowler, currently comprising of overs from Darshan Nalkande and Rahul Tewatia – can be protected. If the wickets don’t come, then those four overs could hurt Titans against a batting line-up like that of Royals.
The Titans have another problem, an issue that might have been glossed over because of the hat-trick of wins to start their season, but runs are not coming from Matthew Wade and David Miller. Apart from scores of 1 and 6, Wade has a 29-ball 30 and a 19-ball 19. Miller has not been able to deliver the death-overs blows. That risks Titans becoming a one-trick pony, relying heavily on a big Shubman Gill score and hoping for solid contributions from Hardik, the young Sai Sudharsan and Tewatia. They have options – Wriddhiman Saha, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Alzarri Joseph and Dominic Drakes among them – to turn to. replace both players, but will they, just yet?
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Jos Buttler, 2 Devdutt Padikkal, 3 Sanju Samson (capt, wk), 4 Rassie van der Dussen, 5 Shimron Hetmyer, 6 Riyan Parag, 7 R Ashwin, 8 Trent Boult, 9 Yuzvendra Chahal, 10 Prasidh Krishna, 11 Kuldeep Sen
Gujarat Titans: 1 Shubman Gill, 2 Matthew Wade/Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 3 Sai Sudharsan, 4 Hardik Pandya (capt), 5 David Miller, 6 Abhinav Manohar, 7 Rahul Tewatia, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Lockie Ferguson, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Darshan Nalkande
Can Hardik trust Tewatia for four full overs and drop Nalkande to get some extra batting cushion in the middle order? Against Royals – and in partnership with Rashid – there’s a case for it. The Royals have the poorest average against legspinners in IPL 2022 – 25.5 runs/wicket – and Buttler, Hetmyer and Samson have all returned below average numbers against legspin.
Chahal and Ashwin could time their spells with Hardik’s arrival to the crease. Hardik’s strike rate for Titans is not the same from his Mumbai Indians days, a factor of batting at No. 4 and being captain perhaps, but Ashwin and Chahal could capitalise on this. Currently, his strike rate is 104 against Chahal and 100 against Ashwin.
The game is a battle between the highest six-hitters [Royals: 11.5 per match] and the fewest six-hitters [Titans: four per match] in IPL 2022. Not surprisingly, Buttler (15) and Hetmyer (14) are the top six-hitters of the competition.
Samson has struggled against pace this season. His strike rate against pace is 109. Compare that to his spin strike rate of 236 and you know what to attack him with.
Rashid is one strike away from becoming the fourth overseas player to 100 IPL wickets. Sunil Narine (147*), Lasith Malinga (170) and Dwayne Bravo (174*) have more.