IPL 2021 PBKS vs RR: Game Plan – Reconstructing Rajasthan Royals

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The 32nd match of IPL 2021, PBKS vs RR, promises to be a mouth-watering contest as the two teams look to make strides in the points table, clash in Dubai in phase II of IPL 2021.

Rajasthan Royals, a team that has been massively hit by the non-availability of players, looks to start the second leg of their IPL campaign with a rejuvenated squad. They have looked to bring some new faces into their setup this year. Although the recruits would not have any IPL experience backing their selection, the Rajasthan-based franchise have strongly valued their performances at the international level.

When some of the familiar faces pulled out of the tournament, RR had ahead of them a humongous challenge of signing quality replacements who were capable of getting into their first XI. In the middle of a tournament of such high standards and with most of the quality players already being picked during the mini auction, Rajasthan were compelled to pick from a small pool of players. While the pressure was building with other franchises also looking for replacements, RR targeted the right set of players and were clever with their picks.

They made some smart moves by not only picking like to like replacements but also by addressing the other flaws that were present in the side. One such flaw that was addressed was the lack of a quality spinner to bowl economical spells and pick wickets in the middle overs. Two possible replacements were Sri Lankan leg spinner Wanindu Hasaranga and South African Chinaman bowler Tabraiz Shamsi and RR went on to acquire the services of the latter who has been the second-highest wicket-taker in the international circuit since 2019 picking up 43 wickets with an economy rate of 6.37. While this is the maximum they could do in order to sort out their bowling, RR have made some promising picks with respect to their batting unit.

PBKS vs RR – Rajasthan’s batting conundrum

Rajasthan Royals for the last couple of seasons have been over-reliant on Sanju Samson, Jos Buttler, and Ben Stokes to score the fair share of their runs. Previously, Samson was sandwiched in between Stokes and Buttler, with an aim to split their three best batsmen to handle the three crucial phases of the game. When Stokes was out of the side, Buttler moved up the order with Miller taking up the finisher’s role. However, with them missing the services of both Buttler and Stokes, they will now have a new overseas batting camaraderie turning up alongside skipper Samson to bolster their batting lineup.

Acquiring the services of in-form T20 batsmen Evin Lewis and Glenn Phillips and with Liam Livingstone back in the side, Rajasthan Royals would want them to fill the huge void that has been left behind by the batsmen who were considered to be the backbone of this side. It was inevitable that Lewis was going to bag an IPL contract after having a stellar couple of years with the bat at the top in the international level. Lewis in T20 Internationals since 2019 has made 681 runs at an average of 30.95 with an amazing strike rate of 153.03. Having played at a rate of 7.16 runs per over in the powerplay this season, Rajasthan needed an attacking option at the top, and signing Lewis has ticked one major box. 

 

Considering his scintillating form, Lewis would most probably be looked upon as their first-choice opener. The likes of Jaiswal, Livingstone, Phillips pose a strong case to open alongside Lewis. With Jaiswal showing some promise in the first leg of this season after replacing Vohra, one would expect the team to show faith and give him a longer rope. Pairing up two left-handers might potentially lead up to the introduction of Ravi Bishnoi, a bowler known to have a hard-to-pick googly, a delivery which he bowls with an economy of 5.89. In order to maintain the left-right combination, RR can look to go with either Livingstone or Phillips. With Livingstone being a certainty in the XI and the only question being his position, picking up Phillips will mean that RR might miss out on the likes of Mustafizur or Shamsi. 

Accommodating Phillips and Livingstone can solve a lot of the batting woes for RR. Livingstone coming off from a brilliant Hundred campaign when paired with Lewis at the top can form one of the most destructive opening pairs in the competition. Livingstone in T20s that he has opened in since 2020 has scored at an average of 34.28 and a strike rate of 141. This pushes Jaiswal by one slot to number 3. Jaiswal can anchor the innings and will complement batters like Lewis, Livingstone, and Samson. An early wicket would mean Jaiswal steadies the ship while the rest of the batsmen take charge. A wicket post powerplay would mean a lot of damage has already been done by the destructive opening pair. Either way, Rajasthan don’t have a downside playing Jaiswal at 3. 

Samson, a dynamic batsman can take the crucial role of connecting the top order with the lower middle order. Since 2020, Samson has had stellar numbers in both the middle overs (45.78/157.25) and the death overs (24/200). Phillips who follows Samson at 5 has done well in this role for his national side as well as the other franchises he has represented. Since 2020, Phillips averages 65.3 and strikes at 210.8 in the death overs in all the T20s that he has played. Phillips can also be trusted to handle any major collapses which makes him an ideal candidate to be picked in the side when going heavy on the batting front. With batting depth in Parag, Morris, and Tewatia, RR can look to go berserk from ball one and try to maximize their run-scoring opportunities.

While the Rajasthan Royals have looked to tick a lot of boxes on individual roles, there still exists a scepticism on whether or not they have struck the right balance to yield the best possible result. Their approach boils down to the strength of the opponent and what kind of a trade-off between bat and ball can lead to better results.

Looking at the way the RR side has been constructed, achieving a balance between bat and ball seems to be quite a tough task. Neither the Indian batsmen nor the Indian spinners have borne fruit so far. With Dube (Avg 24.17/ SR 117.9) not meeting the expectation this season and Lomror too unable to seal his spot with any impactful performances in the little chances he has got, Rajasthan are in a spot of bother. Shreyas Gopal, their lead spinner in the past seasons seemed to be completely out of touch this season. Mayank Markande is another option worthy of exploring.

Rajasthan can now take either of the two routes. One is to try and strike a balance between bat and ball or try and go batting heavy and rely entirely on the batters to post big totals or chase them down. One possible way of trying to meet the first option is by playing an overseas combination of two batsmen in Lewis and Livingstone and two overseas bowlers in Morris and either Shamsi or Mustafizur. Still, can the balance be achieved? As mentioned earlier, it is far-fetched due to the quality of Indian batters RR have with them. 

The other route is trusting their Indian spinner and going batting heavy by playing three overseas batsmen, the merits of which have been talked about earlier. Gopal and Markande are the frontrunners for the role of the Indian spinner. Parag has been handy with the ball so far and with Jaiswal also having the ability to roll his arm over, Rajasthan have options to cover off their spinner’s bad day.

PBKS vs RR – Punjab Kings’ team construction and why it matters for RR

As said earlier, prioritizing which route to take also depends on the strength of the opposition. Since 2020, PBKS batsmen have had mixed results against leg-spin. KL Rahul strikes at 110 against leg-spin while Agarwal and Gayle average in the low 20s. Pooran has tasted success against leg-spin, but also a lot depends on whether he has regained his touch back after a disastrous first leg. This gives room for experimenting a leg spinner.

PBKS Top-4 batsmen against leg-spinners since 2020

PBKS vs RR – PBKS Top-4 batsmen against leg-spinners since 2020

PBKS have also not been a strong bowling side this season. While they have conceded at a rate of 8.2 runs per over, they have picked the least number of wickets (38) and as a result, have got the worst balls per wicket ratio (23) among all teams. Rajasthan can look to exploit the weaker side of their opponents rather than trying to control what their opponents are good at. This means that relying heavily on batting can yield results in favor of the Rajasthan side and thus experimenting with three overseas batters and trying to bat the opposition out of the game can be a good option to consider.

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