The last time Lucknow Super Giants won a game while chasing was more than a month ago, on April 7 , when it was only the second week of IPL 2022. Now with barely a week left for the league stage of the tournament when teams are expected to fine-tune their plans for the playoffs, a glaring weakness has emerged for Super Giants: they can't ace their chases.
Even though Super Giants were chasing 179 on Sunday, which might have appeared to be below-par because of how Rajasthan Royals were looking set for 200-odd at one point, KL Rahul 's team stumbled to 34 for 3 in the powerplay and left too much to do for the middle order that neither had the experience like their top order nor the hitting abilities of their lower order.
Rahul admitted after their loss that they had to get "smarter" while batting and "needed to work hard" on their game because it was the fourth time in a row that they went down in a chase.
"It was a gettable target. It was a good pitch, there was a bit in there with the new ball. We were backing ourselves to get that target, but we couldn't execute our plans and once again the batting group…we haven't been able to collectively perform as a unit in a few games," Rahul told the host broadcaster at the presentation. "We need to go back and work on our game, work on being smarter when we're in the middle and try and get a win for the team.
"Pune was a lot harder, there was a lot more on the pitch there. This (Brabourne Stadium) was a really good pitch, there was seam movement early on, quality bowlers like Trent [Boult] and Prasidh [Krishna] were hitting hard lengths, getting to move it just a little bit. They bowled in good areas and when you lose two wickets in an over that puts pressure on you and it has happened a couple of times with us where we've lost the game in the powerplay, as a batting we've lost three-four wickets which is obviously very hard to come back from. We need to work hard on our game and make sure when the ball is moving and when there are quality bowlers, you find a way to stay in the game and give your team a good start so that in the back end, we can always get runs."
Super Giants are now second on the list to lose the most number of wickets in the powerplay in this IPL, only behind Kolkata Knight Riders. On Sunday, Boult and Prasidh rocked Super Giants early with the back-to-back wickets of Quinton de Kock and Ayush Badoni in the third over followed by Rahul's departure for a laborious 10 off 19 in the sixth over.
"If we can hold our nerve in the middle while we're batting and give ourselves a chance to play out the new ball or play out a good spell even when there are just 120 balls," Rahul further said. "If you can get through that spell then you always have enough time to make up and win the game from there. We've got power in our batting; people do hit the ball really far, and they can hit sixes and get a big over, so it's just about being smart and playing out the good spells."
One way for Super Giants to succeed on Sunday would have been to take the game deep because Royals have had issues with their death bowling and still have the worst economy rate in that phase. Maybe, the Super Giants think-tank held Marcus Stoinis and Jason Holder back for that phase, but their decision to promote Badoni to No. 3 backfired as he fell for a golden duck.
Their bowling coach Andy Bichel told the host broadcaster Star Sports early in the chase that Badoni was promoted because he had been batting well in some of their practice games, and Rahul revealed after the game that they could bat Stoinis up the order in the coming games.
"He (Badoni) has been batting well," Rahul said at the press conference. "In the last four-five games, we felt like we could have used him slightly differently, so we tried playing him top of the order."
On Stoinis' batting position, Rahul said: "What we're trying to do is utilise players who will best suit the situation and for us, Marcus is one of those players who has brute force, and we know that he can be really dangerous at the back end, so we've tried to hold him back a little bit. We've kept it slightly flexible with the batting roles, and this is the role we've picked him for, the finisher for us and even today, he batted really well.
"We need to go back and work on our game, work on being smarter when we're in the middle and try and get a win for the team."KL Rahul
"He's showing that he can really win us games single-handedly, but you need someone to support him at the other end and he needs, and the team needs the top order to set up the game for someone like Stoinis and Jason to come in and finish games which hasn't happened, unfortunately. Having said that, we might even see Stoinis batting up the order in the next game or the coming games where we give him more overs to play and give him a chance to go out there and be the dangerous Stoinis that he is."
Daniel Vettori and Piyush Chawla, experts on ESPNcricinfo's show T20 Time Out also expressed that Super Giants need to bat Stoinis and Holder higher, before Krunal Pandya, who batted at No. 5 on Sunday.
"Honestly, they are heavily dependent on their top three," Chawla said. "In the middle order, you just have Marcus Stoinis, who comes quite late, and if you see the other batters, they don't have much experience. The whole middle order has been exposed for Lucknow in a couple of games especially."
"We've had it on numerous occasions that quality, proven, generally international batsmen have been left to Nos. 5, 6 and 7 or left too late and then unproven domestic batsmen or even unproven international batsmen are batting ahead of them," Vettori said, "and it seems to be counterintuitive to have that kind of set-up because Stoinis has batted on numerous occasions up the order and Krunal Pandya hasn't; he has mostly batted at No. 6 or 7. It feels like they've got their roles mixed up, and also Jason Holder, who is one of the best middle-order batsmen, has the potential to go up."
Vettori further said there was no need for Super Giants to experiment with Badoni at No. 3 when Deepak Hooda had been excelling there earlier. "You want your best batsmen out there to take it on because Hooda has batted at three on numerous occasions now, and he has looked like KL Rahul in a lot of ways. I don't believe there's any need to protect your best batsmen."
Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo