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Talking Points: Did the Rajasthan Royals go too hard, too soon in the chase?

Also, why did KKR drop Lockie Ferguson? And was it a mistake promoting Sunil Narine again?

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Did the Royals go too hard, too soon?
Needing to win in 13.3 overs to effectively guarantee qualification, the Rajasthan Royals got off to a lightning-fast start: Robin Uthappa flicked Pat Cummins' first ball for six, and after five balls they were 19 for 0. But 25 balls later, the score was 37 for 5, as Cummins wreaked havoc with the new ball against a line-up dead-set on attack.
Given the net run rate equation (NRR), it made some sense for the Royals to go all-out attack. But equally, they would have qualified for the playoffs with two points here, regardless of their NRR, so long as table-topping Mumbai Indians beat the Sunrisers Hyderabad on Tuesday. Having timed their last two chases perfectly, against Mumbai and the Kings XI Punjab, the Royals' decision to go as hard as they did today was questionable.
Line, or luck: what changed for Cummins in the powerplay?
Cummins had taken only four powerplay wickets in 13 innings this season heading into the Kolkata Knight Riders' final group game, despite bowling three overs in the first six on seven occasions. But tonight his fortunes turned, as he took four new-ball wickets to double his season tally and derail the Royals' run chase before it had really begun.
ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data suggested that the main difference in his approach was the line that his balls pitched: 55.6% of his balls tonight pitched in line with the stumps, compared to 29.7% before. But, it should be noted that three of his wickets contained a slice of luck: Uthappa picked out deep-backward square leg, Ben Stokes fell to a spectacular catch, and Steven Smith chopped on. It would be harsh to suggest he had bowled particularly badly up front before tonight; perhaps that good fortune was all that was missing.
Why did KKR drop Lockie Ferguson?
After his match-winning exploits against the Sunrisers two weeks ago, it seemed unthinkable that Lockie Ferguson would miss another match for the Knight Riders this season. But with Andre Russell a non-negotiable inclusion - head coach Brendon McCullum said that Russell was "nowhere near 100% fit" but he still played - and Ferguson returning 0 for 54 last time out against the Chennai Super Kings, the Knight Riders went with captain Eoin Morgan, Sunil Narine, Cummins and Russell as their four overseas players instead.
Was it a mistake to bat Sunil Narine at No. 4?
Narine came out at No. 4 after Shubman Gill was dismissed in the ninth over, and was dismissed second ball: he was caught at long-on trying to hit Rahul Tewatia for six leading Mark Nicholas on commentary to declare "the Narine experiment fails again".
In fact, Narine's innings was not a problem for the Knight Riders. He showed against the Delhi Capitals that he is still a destructive hitter of spin, and with the Royals fielding two legspinners in Shreyas Gopal and Tewatia, it made sense for him to come in and target them. With a long batting line-up, his wicket had even less value than usual, and he used up only two balls: it would have been significantly worse for the Knight Riders if he had, say, made 20 off 17.
The top score by a KKR No. 4 batsman this season has been just 24, leading many pundits to wonder why Eoin Morgan has not batted there consistently like he has done for England. But they have regularly lost early wickets, and the entry points for their No. 4 have been very different from match to match - not least with Russell and Narine in and out of the side at various points in the season.
Archer's lack of powerplay support
KKR's powerplay score of 55 for 1 came in spite of Jofra Archer's electrifying opening two-over burst, in which he dismissed Nitish Rana and conceded only three runs. All told, Archer has conceded just 4.34 runs per over this season in the powerplay, while taking 10 wickets; that is by some distance the tightest economy rate in the powerplay in a single IPL season, beating Dale Steyn's 4.82 runs per over in 2013 (min. 20 overs). According to ESPNcricinfo's Super Stats, Archer's Smart Economy Rate in the powerplay is just 2.15.
But not for the first time, he was let down by a lack of support from the rest of the attack. The Royals' other bowlers have leaked 9.93 runs per over in the powerplay, taking only five wickets at an average of 115.20. In fact, despite Archer's success, the Royals' economy rate in the first six overs is the worst of any team's in the IPL (8.34), and only the Super Kings and the Knight Riders have taken fewer early wickets. Steven Smith and Andrew McDonald have regularly mentioned the temptation of giving Archer a third powerplay over this season, but have never done so: with Rahul Tewatia the only other Rajasthan bowler to seemingly perform at his best, they have relied on Archer to give them two overs towards the end of the innings.
Why did Stokes bowl at the death?
Having slowly built himself a reputation as a reliable death bowler as a young allrounder, Ben Stokes' impressive yorkers in the 2016 World T20 were quickly forgotten when Carlos Brathwaite hit him for four consecutive sixes in the last over of the final. Coming into tonight's game, he had bowled 30 death overs in all T20 since that tournament, conceding 302 runs at an economy rate of 10.06; for the Royals, his economy rate was 11.13.
Bowling a number of slower balls, he bowled an excellent 17th over to Morgan and Cummins, conceding one four, one run off the bat and a leg bye, and was trusted to bowl the 19th ahead of Varun Aaron as a result. But his slower balls became too predictable: Cummins set himself for one and crunched him over long-off, while Morgan hit him down the ground for two more, then read the pace-on delivery to cut him for four to take 24 off the over.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98