Talking points from the 45th game of the IPL between the Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals in Abu Dhabi
Did Royals' fluid batting order come good?
Even Shane Warne, the Rajasthan Royals' mentor, concurred with popular opinion that Jos Buttler "should definitely be opening" for the side. Before Sunday's game against Mumbai Indians, Ben Stokes, who had replaced Buttler at the top, had managed only 110 runs in five innings at an average of 22 and strike rate of 106.79. Yet, the Royals' team management persisted with Stokes as an opener and he repaid their faith with a match-winning 107 off 60 balls at a strike rate of 178.33 in his sixth innings. The assault meant that Buttler wasn't needed at all in a steep chase of 196.
Sanju Samson, who had batted at No.3 in the Royals' last three fixtures, moved one spot down to No. 4 and contributed 54 in an unbroken 152-run partnership with Stokes. Captain Steven Smith, who had pushed himself up to No.3, fell cheaply once again, but on Sunday, the Royals' rejigged batting order came good.
What went wrong for Mumbai's spinners?
Krunal Pandya and Rahul Chahar bowled five overs between them, giving up 56 runs without taking a single wicket. Stokes' left-handedness and his innovation at the top in particular threw them off their lines and lengths. Krunal was reverse-swept for four in his first over, as was Chahar. All up, Stokes took 39 off 21 balls from the two spinners, including five fours and two sixes. At the post-match presentation, Mumbai's captain Kieron Pollard said that the dew hindered his bowlers and that ball slid onto the bat in the night.
How did Pollard get out?
Earlier in the evening, though, the ball did stop on the Abu Dhabi pitch and the Royals' legspinners found turn and grip. Before this game, Pollard had been dismissed just once in seven innings this IPL; that was back in the opener where Lungi Ngidi had him caught behind.
Since the start of CPL 2020, Pollard has been prolific against legspin, hitting 129 runs off 57 balls at a strike rate of over 225 while being dismissed only once. Smith, however, punted on Shreyas Gopal and the legspinner took out Pollard with a one-two punch.
His second ball was a tossed-up legbreak that spun away from Pollard's swinging arc. He still managed to reach out and slice it away to long-off, where Stokes got a hand to it, but parried it over the fence for six. His next ball was a fizzing wrong'un as Pollard played for the stock legbreak and was bowled for 6.
Why didn't Stokes bowl?
Stokes has also had a rough time with the ball this IPL, conceding 82 runs in eight overs, while picking up a solitary wicket. However, on a surface that was sluggish and grippy in the first half, Stokes could've been a useful option.
Ankit Rajpoot had been expensive in the powerplay, giving up 33 runs in his three overs. Smith, though, opted against sneaking in Stokes in the middle and gave another over to Rajpoot. Hardik Pandya sat deep in the crease, leant back, and targetted his on-pace length balls. Rajpoot ended with 4-0-60-0 - the second most-expensive figures this IPL.
What worked for Mumbai at the death?
Hardik went on a boundary-hitting spree at the death, but there seemed to be a method behind Mumbai's madness. They were 121 for 4 in the 16th over. Jofra Archer still had two overs left. He returned to bowl the 17th, and Hardik didn't take any risk against him - he was even content to knock a full-toss down the ground for a single. It was Saurabh Tiwary, the seemingly more expendable batsman, who chanced his arm against Archer, swiping him for back-to-back fours.
Hardik tore into Rajpoot and Kartik Tyagi, the relatively weaker links in the Royals' attack, shellacking 54 off 13 balls from them.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo