The opening gambit
When Rajasthan royals came out to chase 177, the common feeling was the target was slightly over-par. And then Royals sprung a surprise. Out came Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes to open. All the firepower right at the top. This was the first time Stokes was opening in the IPL. He had a strike rate of 110 in IPL Powerplays and 120 in all Powerplays.
Yet, it made sense to go all out at the top. The main reason wasn't too different to why the target was considered over-par. On this slow pitch, the heavy lifting happened against the new ball and with only two fielders outside the circle. The other reason was the match-up: Stokes had previously scored 28 off 14 David Willey deliveries. The biggest, perhaps, was the impact. MS Dhoni loves to get his quicks through inside the Powerplay and then control the game through spin in the middle overs. Now with two foreign batsmen opening the innings, they were almost obliged to bowl spin. For the first time this season, they bowler four overs of spin inside the Powerplay, for the second time they went up to three.
The closing remarks
You could clearly see Dhoni was not happy with what Willey bowled in the 19th over. Royals needed 28 in two overs, hitting off-pace deliveries had proved of late, Buttler had gone from 50 off 26 to scoring just 31 off the next 27 balls he had faced. And then Willey went ahead and bowled seam-up to K Gowtham. However, Dhoni will do well to ask himself why Willey was bowling the 19th over in the first place.
You will usually see captains bowling their best bowlers of the night before the last over in an attempt to break the game open before going into the finale. On this night, Dwayne Bravo was Dhoni's best option. Yes, Bravo did bowl the 18th and thus could not have bowled the 19th, but Dhoni could have calculated this better. There has been a previous to this too. This season, Dhoni has captained a little like Virat Kohli, keeping his best bowler for the last. In the game against Mumbai Indians, with 22 required in the last two, Dhoni bowled Shardul Thakur in the 19th, lost the game there, and then bowled Imran Tahir in the 20th for some desperate magic. With 3-0-21-1, Bravo was left unutilised. And on that occasion, Bravo's last over had been the 17th unlike here.
Cumulative numbers don't lie: Super Kings have the worst economy rate in the 19th over - 16 - when defending totals this season. It is no coincidence the best option has often not been used in the said over.
Unadkat is too aware
How many times has it happened in the neighbourhood playground? You run somebody out but the batsman comes up with the rule that tells you that you had to take the whole stump out because the bails had been removed already. That's how we all learn this rule, and it can be embarrassing to be caught unawares of it at higher levels. Jaydev Unadkat was alert after a straight drive from Dhoni hit the stumps at the bowler's end. Unadkat collected the ball, ran towards the pitch and used his two hands to pluck a stump to try to complete the run-out. In the process, he lost valuable time, which let Sam Billings get back in. To Unadkat and Rajasthan Royals' annoyance, it emerged that one of the bails was still on, and that a simple underarm flick would have done the job.
Lengths to Dhoni
With the form Dhoni has hit this IPL, Royals were looking at a lot of punishment when Dhoni walked out at the fall of the second wicket in the 12th over. However, they managed to keep him quiet in the first half of his innings: it took Dhoni 17 balls to hit his first boundary. Straightaway, the difference here was the lengths bowled to him: six of the 18 balls that Dhoni faced from pacers were short of a length. Dhoni managed just seven runs off those.
It is debatable, though, if Royals' plan to dig the ball in was a response to Dhoni or to the slow pitch. A look at numbers earlier in the tournament might suggest the latter, for before this match, Dhoni had taken 44 runs off 22 balls pitched short of a length by quick bowlers.