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Match Analysis

Rajasthan Royals' hustle trumps Gujarat Titans' pragmatism

The defending champions play conservative T20 cricket because of their high-quality bowling, but sometimes it can backfire

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
When Shimron Hetmyer hit Alzarri Joseph for a six at the end of the 16th over, Rajasthan Royals had reached only 134 of the 178 required. It was a landmark moment in the match: in scoring 75% of the runs in 80% of the overs, Rajasthan Royals had scored the same number of runs in boundaries as Gujarat Titans did in their entire innings. In the end, Royals outscored Titans by 130 to 94 in boundaries, which is a huge margin for a match of such narrow margins.
In the end, Hardik Pandya said they were short by only ten or so runs, which is a fair comment despite their falling behind by 36 on boundaries. That is the nature of Titans' blueprint, and also their rivalry with Royals. Since coming into existence, Titans have scored the second-highest number of runs in the IPL but only the fourth-highest in boundaries.
In many ways, Titans are a side hard to figure out. At their genesis itself, for inexplicable reasons, one team released its best player and another its second-best only for Titans to draft them in. Then they went on to put together a squad that plays conservatively with the bat: Shubman Gill likes to drop anchor, Hardik has been going at 130s as against 170 and above when at Mumbai Indians, David Miller has become a slower starter. They score only 55.15% of their runs in boundaries. Royals, on the other hand, have scored 61.99% of their runs in boundaries over the same period.
Royals are more like Kolkata Knight Riders (63.15% in boundaries over the same period). They rely more on unorthodox methods: pinch-hitters, pinch-anchors, maximising match-ups, taking higher risks when batting. Incidentally, they are the two sides that have beaten Titans so far this year.
Normally, you would say Titans' is a sub-optimal way of playing T20, but they are the defending champions. They are a smoother side with experienced players who have largely fixed roles. Their strength is a bowling attack that has seam movement through Mohammed Shami, swing and bounce in Hardik, middle-overs heat and hard lengths in Joseph, and wrist-spin wizardry in Rashid Khan. Because they have that attack, they don't need to risk getting bowled out early to put up a total that is dew-proof or miracle-proof.
Sometimes then you come up against a side that plays high-risk cricket, and those risks come off as they did with Sanju Samson and Hetmyer. On such days, you look back at the period when you respected the high-quality spin attack of Royals a little too much and didn't try to hit enough boundaries.
However, it would be unfair to question their tactics based on one defeat to a side that they beat three times last year. They won the title playing similar cricket last season. In fact, in two of their three wins over Royals last year, Titans scored fewer in boundaries than the opposition, which is a rare event in T20 cricket.
In Titans' approach is the answer to the question about whether T20 cricket has room for anchors. It all depends on the quality of your bowling. Titans believe they have the bowling to afford them anchors. It involved a few games that could have gone either way last year, but they did win the title playing similar cricket. This year too, both their defeats have been nothing short of miraculous: Rinku Singh hit five consecutive sixes in the last over in one, and Royals' win probability was down to 2.01% after 12 overs of the chase.
So don't expect a big change in their batting approach, but Hardik's comments might suggest a bit of tweaking is in order. Whatever happens, this result sets up a fascinating clash of T20 philosophies in the return game on May 5 in Jaipur. If they do live up to their billing, that may not be the last time they face each other this year.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo