Rajasthan Royals IPL 2014 review May 26, 2014

Too much tinkering topples Royals

Rajasthan Royals were in a pretty much unassailable position to reach the playoffs with five matches to go, but their season collapsed dramatically amid a raft of odd tactical decisions

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Where they finished

Fifth, with seven wins from 14 matches.

What went right

As they so often do, Rajasthan Royals squeezed the most out of their uncapped Indian players. Pravin Tambe, Rajat Bhatia, Ankit Sharma, Rahul Tewatia were mostly economical with the ball, and Karun Nair was a revelation with the bat.

Royals' Australian finishers - Steven Smith, Brad Hodge and James Faulkner - all performed well when called upon, with Smith and Faulkner pulling off a spectacular heist against Royal Challengers Bangalore. All three finished with 30-plus averages and 130-plus strike rates, but it was not an unqualified success; Royals could have made much better use of them. It tells you something that all three players ended with highest scores in the 40s, and that two of them were not-outs.

What went wrong

Tactics, tactics, tactics. It started early in the season, with Royals choosing to open with Abhishek Nayar and persisting with a clearly out-of-form Stuart Binny at No. 5, ahead of Steven Smith and James Faulkner. These decisions did not attract too much opprobrium, however, since Royals were putting the results on the table.

In fact, after they beat Royal Challengers Bangalore on May 11, the table suggested they were in a pretty unassailable position as far as qualification was concerned. They were third, with a four-point cushion separating them from Kolkata Knight Riders in fourth, and had a healthy, positive net run rate of +0.250. They had five matches left, and two wins would seal the deal for them. Even one win might have been enough.

At that precise point, they chose to hand the responsibility of drawing up their tactics to the nine-year-old nephew of a member of their match-day catering staff. Or so their team management made it look, with every bizarre decision they made.

Against Chennai Super Kings, right after Karun Nair and Ajinkya Rahane had put on a brisk half-century stand against Royal Challengers, they chose to open with Ankit Sharma and Shane Watson. Against Mumbai Indians, chasing 179, they sent in Kevon Cooper, Stuart Binny and Ankit ahead of Brad Hodge (who had replaced Steven Smith out of the blue) and James Faulkner.

Against Kings XI Punjab, at a time when they knew the race for fourth was getting tight, they brought in Vikramjeet Malik for his first game of the season. And then, chasing 180, they sent in Binny and Rahul Tewatia ahead of Hodge and Faulkner.

They lost all three games, all fairly narrowly, but a win over the hapless Delhi Daredevils meant they were still favourites to go through ahead of their final game against Mumbai Indians. They did as well as they could with the bat in that game, but their bowlers went through a collective brain-freeze. It might not have come to this had they been consistent with their selections and played their best eleven, with everyone in their best position in the crunch games, leading up to the final day of the league phase.

Key stat

Royals won five out of six games against the teams that finished below them. They also beat Kolkata Knight Riders twice, in two freakish matches - they won one of them on boundary count following a tied Super Over, and the other by 10 runs, after Knight Riders collapsed to lose six wickets for two runs - and these were Royals' only wins against teams that finished above them. They failed to win a single game against Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings or Kings XI Punjab.

Best player

In a productive tournament for quickish, accurate legspinners - Royal Challengers' Yuzvendra Chahal and Sunrisers' Karn Sharma enjoyed similar levels of success - Pravin Tambe was Royals' go-to bowler and a regular source of wickets in the middle overs. All his 15 wickets came in the 10-over period between the end of the Powerplay and the start of the 17th over - he was, in fact, the tournament's highest wicket-taker in that phase.

Tambe wasn't really expected to repeat his success from last year's Champions League, but he remained just as hard to hit, and just as capable of surprising batsmen and on occasion, even ran through teams. He finished with figures of 4 for 20 as Royals rolled Royal Challengers over for 70 in Abu Dhabi. And then, most memorably, he took a hat-trick against Knight Riders in Ahmedabad to stop what looked an odds-on chase of 171 in its tracks.

Worst player

Stuart Binny can lay claim to this title, having been retained by Royals, having batted mostly at No. 5, usually ahead of Steven Smith, and for ending the tournament with an average of 12.30 and a strike rate of 101.65. But because more was expected from him, the honour will instead go to Royals' captain, Shane Watson.

Watson flickered only sporadically with the bat, and ended the season with an average of 20 and a strike rate of 122.44. He did not bowl all that often, and did not bowl particularly well when he had a go. It is probably unfair to pin the blame on him for Royals' tactical messes, considering their backroom staff probably played a bigger role in selection and batting-order decisions, but he often looked a confused leader on the field as well.

Watson's worst performance came in Royals' final game, when he opened the batting and scored 8 off 18 balls, gave away 33 runs in two overs - bowling short and wide with third man in the circle - and wore a blank look on his face as Brad Hodge took charge of the field placements.

Surprise package

Karun Nair had enjoyed a spectacular debut season in first-class cricket, in which he had scored three consecutive centuries to help Karnataka win the Ranji Trophy. Spectacular first-class seasons, however, do not always translate into IPL opportunities, and IPL opportunities often don't translate into instant success.

Nair, though, looked a natural right from the start, composed at the crease and full of scoring options. He did not have to deviate too much from orthodox cricket shots to score quickly, and used the square cut to particularly good effect against the spinners. He scored three half-centuries, including an ice-cool 27-ball 50 in the fourth-place decider against Mumbai Indians, and a 39-ball 56 that set up Royals' spectacular chase against Royal Challengers.

Memorable moment

For 16 overs, Royal Challengers had dominated proceedings at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. Yuvraj Singh had returned to form in spectacular fashion to propel them to 190, and he had demolished Royals' middle order, taking four wickets with his left-arm spin. And then, with 65 to get from the last four overs, Smith and Faulkner exploded to life. Faulkner smashed two fours and a six as Mitchell Starc went for 21 in the 17th over, and Smith took 14 off the first three balls of the next over, from Ashok Dinda. Royals were suddenly within sight. In the end, they didn't even need a 20th over, as Faulkner finished it off with a clinical assault on a helpless Varun Aaron, taking Royals home with seven balls to spare.

Unused players

Amit Mishra, Ankush Bains, and Deepak Hooda.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on May 29, 2014, 16:38 GMT

    Its good that they did not qualify for if they had anyone to blame its only themselves. And it all comes down to just 2 reasons viz. bizarre tactics and horrendous death bowling. The latter does not need elaboration, the former too does not... but just to quote a few examples - Watson not fit to be captain had to be Smith instead, Smith dropped for the last few matches absolutely inexplicable, Tambe bowling just 2 overs in the last match when everyone knows that Anderson is not great against spin, Abhishek Nayar opening in the initial games and Watson not opening, Stuart Binny continuing to be persisted when everyone else played musical chairs, Faulkner bowling leg side full tosses in the last over when situation cried for bowling wide off stump with a third man, Chand playing in the first game against Mumbai .... the list is endless... The two shining lights though were Karun Nair and Sanju Samson - hope they have great careers ahead.

  • Dummy4 on May 28, 2014, 0:29 GMT

    They assumed,quite prematurely, that they are already in the play-offs. That one assumption snowballed into into subsequent disasters and disorientation. A classic case of a team of good guys and support staff defeating themselves.

  • Dummy4 on May 27, 2014, 18:59 GMT

    Continuing where I left RR in quest of strengthening the batting went one bowler short in form of Bhatia they dropped Binny I was happy but replacement choice Abhishek Nayar was a bad one they needed Bhatia he is a better bowler and batsman than Nayar if i am not wrong Ankit Sharma the offie was in team and never bowled a over tactics cost them but some good batting talent has been unearthened I salute Royals for that

  • Dummy4 on May 27, 2014, 18:56 GMT

    Being a Royals fan I agree with most of the things the author has said Hodge for Smith was fine as Hodge has performed in the matches he got the chance.My only concern was the love for Binny this guy plays all 13 games hardly scores nor bowls and aint a great fielder.Since you have retained you wanna play fine no issue if Binny was to be in playing I would have ideally played him ahead of Tambe as every other player was better than him.RR made one big tactical mistake they branded Faulkner Hodge Smith as finishers and excepted them to win all games after all was lost.Hodge Faulkner batting at 8 &9 and who bats ahead of them Rahul Tewatia Ankit Sharma Stuart Binny.Even in scenarios where RR were to loose by big margin Faulkner and Hodge hit hard and reduced the margins.Dravid probably took IPL as platform to promote indian talent a bit too seriously and kept sending Indians ahead of proven match winners.In final game I was happy that they sent sanju karun faulkner hodge against rahane

  • ashok on May 27, 2014, 16:24 GMT

    I respect RR the most because, they have their brought a lot of Uncapped Indian players out and exposed all the talents... I am sure that these guys are going to shine in the domestic cricket and will soon play for India... It ain't over until the fat lady sings...

  • Dummy4 on May 27, 2014, 13:51 GMT

    Stop it you guys. For the team that spent the least amount of money and had the least heralded team, RR still did better than some other heavy weight teams. At the end they just missed out by a whisker whereas the other big teams were never in the contention. And all the experts called RR the favorites for the wooden spoon. They were far from it. Also remember that RR didnt have a home ground - last year they were unbeaten in Jaipur. So be fair in your assessment.

  • Sriram on May 27, 2014, 13:19 GMT

    Dravid,Upton, Watto needs to share the blame. Steven Smith should be the captian and Brad Hodge if does not play another IPL should be the coach. On the otherhand, Royals missed home advantage and Mumbai qualified purely on home advantage. Bhatia over Binny was baffling. Faulkner in death has not worked in the past to, so to ask him to bowl that over was disater. Royals messed up with too much tinkering, quite opposite to what CSK does with hardly any changes to thier core group. SRH and RR have got thier combo wrong in most games, while CSK did that a few times. MI are the luckiest to be in finals. I see KKR vs Punjab finals, but I wont count out MI coz they might get to play two games in Mumbai and have a upper hand over any team with an maximum support.

  • Dummy4 on May 27, 2014, 12:31 GMT

    Fantastic... the better four team progressed into playoffs. if you see Rajasthan was not very consistent.... just winning a match or two out of the blue like beating RCB would not change the result of the tournament. Rajasthan Team thinkering was the worst ever in the IPL

  • srinivasan on May 27, 2014, 12:00 GMT

    It ain't over till the fat lady sings. true

  • Dummy4 on May 27, 2014, 11:00 GMT

    Rajasthan Royals did not qualify as overall in 14 games each team played, the other 4 which qualified faired better... I do not believe that changing players and chopping and changing matters much in the whole scheme of things as if it worked... people would have said - wow!! good bench strength, giving all players chances for the qualifiers etc etc. Against Banglore - Faulknar and Smith were good on the day and it paid of, against Mumbai, the team bowled poorly and its that simple.. can not blame the captain or the coach.. every player has to take responsibility and if that happens collectively it makes it appear like a good team performance! STOP criticising team selection and enjoy the game. Its yours one day and someone else's on a different day... God Bless

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