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How do Royals resolve the Rahane issue?

Kane Williamson and Ajinkya Rahane exchange pleasantries ahead of the match BCCI

T20 is more of a team game than cricket's longer formats. Teams only have 120 balls to play with, and are required to optimise the use of resources (read: batsmen) to give themselves the best chance of maximising totals. Teams run out of deliveries more often than they run out of wickets: on an average, only six wickets are lost in a T20 innings. Consequently, batsmen who play the anchor - a valued role in the longer formats - are redundant more often than not. There is less premium placed on the ability of the batsmen to play a long, steady innings in T20s.

Rajasthan Royals are facing this unique problem, with their captain Ajinkya Rahane using up deliveries for minimal returns, thus pulling down the rest of the batting unit. ESPNcricinfo examines the issue and prescribes possible solutions.

How do Royals make the best use of Rahane?

That is where Royals seem to have got their tactics wrong. In playing Rahane at the top of the order, they are not making the best use of the batsmen in their team. In fact, Royals are perhaps over-valuing Rahane's contribution as an anchor, given the composition of their squad. Six out of Royals' top-seven batsmen, excluding Rahane, are capable of batting out an entire T20 innings on their own based on current form. The following table lists the strike rates and average balls per dismissal for the seven top-order batsmen that Royals fielded in their previous match.

The combined dismissal rate is such that they could be expected to bat through most of the 20 overs in an innings on a given day: the balls per dismissal of the other batsmen add up to 117 deliveries. So, on an average, Royals just need Rahane to bat those three extra deliveries out of the 20 overs. Why does it have to be Rahane and not someone else? That is because Rahane has the lowest strike-rate of the seven batsmen, and so the team would be best-placed to maximise their score if all the other batsmen have a go ahead of him.

Rahane costs Royals five runs on an average

With Rahane opening for them, Royals stand to lose five runs per innings on an average. Here's how: the combined strike-rate of Royals' top order, excluding Rahane, works out to 140, which is nearly 20 more than the rate Rahane strikes at. In other words, the other six batsmen in the Royals top order score 20 runs per 100 balls more than Rahane. So, the additional 24 balls he faces on an average (given Rahane gets dismissed once in 27 deliveries) by batting at the top costs Royals five runs per match. In matches where the gap between Rahane's strike rate and others' tends to be higher, the cost to the team will only increase.

That is not to say that Rahane has no value as a batsman in the team. But, unless he finds ways to score faster, he contributes only on the odd occasion when there's a collapse, or the playing conditions are tough enough to reduce the gap between Rahane's scoring rate, compared to the rest. But, given that T20 favours the batsman, those occasions will be too few.

Whom should Royals open with?

If not Rahane, who is best-suited to open for Royals? They have a range of options. The compulsion to make the best use of their captain has led to them not opening with Rahul Tripathi.

Tripathi made some impactful contributions opening for Rising Pune Supergiant in the previous season. Numbers vouch for the soundness of that strategy. ESPNcricinfo's Smart Stats show that Tripathi is Royals' best option to bat in the Powerplay. Tripathi's Smart Strike Rate of 201.82 is the best out of the five opening batsmen in Royals' team. D'arcy Short comes second, so these are the two batsmen Royals should look to bat in the Powerplay to maximise their scoring potential.

Moreover, Tripathi's Smart Strike Rate after the Powerplay, which is only marginally better than Rahane's, indicates that he should not be one of Royals' options to bat through the middle and slog overs. Smart Strike Rate numbers of Royals' batsmen in the middle and death overs tell us that they should look to send Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Sanju Samson, in that order, to maximise scoring after the Powerplay. This will change if they lose early wickets, in which case Samson could be their No. 3.

In T20s, the position at which a player bats is dictated by how the team can make the most of the 120 balls that are available, and not by where that batsman can be made use of best. Royals will need to rethink their strategy of opening with their captain, and shuffle their batting order to give themselves the best chance. For his part, Rahane will have to find ways to score fast, and pull his own weight in Royals' batting line-up.