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How Hetmyer and Boult helped a Royal plan to tie up loose ends

A great campaign was in danger of coming to an early close but RR found the will and the smarts to come good

Alagappan Muthu
Alagappan Muthu
23-May-2024
The littlest things can decide a cricket match. A 2-pound blade. A 5-ounce ball. A 22-yard pitch. Or in the case of the IPL Eliminator, its exact position. Rajasthan Royals (RR) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) played a make-or-break match in conditions where one square boundary was longer (68m) than the other (61m) and one team used it better than the other.
The most dramatic expression of this was the 16th over of the chase. RCB had pulled the game back, picking up three wickets in a short space of time and once again there was undue spotlight on Royals and their batting depth. They needed 47 from 30 balls with six wickets in hand but that isn't as much of an advantage when four of them are R Ashwin, Trent Boult, Sandeep Sharma and Avesh Khan.
Clarity is crucial in these moments but when Virat Kohli takes a vital wicket with just his fielding and 87,347 people roar in unison, believing that their hero had changed the game, it is hard not to be swept up in it. Or, if you're in the opposition, be unbalanced by it. The thing is, much like that six that MS Dhoni hit which went on to favour of the bowling side, this wicket, handed the initiative over to the batting side. That night RCB benefited from destiny. Tonight, it was Royals.
Because after a 23-ball sequence where there were only three boundaries, there came this four-ball sequence with three boundaries: 6, 1, 6, 4. The difference between those two periods of play was the profile of batter at the crease. During the lull, Royals had two right-handers out there, so RCB could protect the short boundary. When the run-out happened, Shimron Hetmyer strode out to the middle. A left-hand batter to partner Riyan Parag, a right-hand batter. This meant Royals could access the short boundary in every over. So that's what they did. Hetmyer targeted midwicket. Parag targeted cover and short third. 6, 1, 6, 4.
It took until the 13th over for RCB to have a left-right combination in the middle, which coincided with a time where they had to rebuild the innings. Royals had one right at the start of their chase and one at the end of their chase which are the two most crucial parts of a chase. This, of course, might just have been coincidence because Yashasvi Jaiswal only bats at the top of the order and Hetmyer only bats in the middle of it. Those are their roles. They didn't change to exploit the ground dimensions.
They did, however, make a concerted effort to provide their best bowlers the best conditions. Boult and Ashwin got the long boundary on the leg side for the right-handed batter. Royals trusted in their quality to make it as hard as possible for RCB to score runs. It was a little like front-loading but in bowling terms. And it worked.
The end from which those two bowled - and later gave up to the team's death bowlers, Avesh and Sandeep, because at that point they needed the long boundary for the right-hand batter on the leg side - cost only 51 runs and yielded six wickets. These were the odd numbered overs in the RCB innings. The even numbered overs - because they had the short boundary on the leg side for the right-hand batter - cost 121 runs but that turned out to be okay. The front-loading had done enough damage.
Boult's first spell of 3-0-6-1 suggested there was more than just the uneven dimensions to consider. He was getting the new ball to curl in the air but also there was a bit of spongy bounce off the pitch. Faf du Plessis was hit high up on his thigh when he was too late to account for the inward moment. Later, when Avesh came on from this end, his short balls were climbing on the RCB batters. Rajat Patidar and Dinesh Karthik were caught off the top edge.
"As soon as the ball swings for Trent Boult, he's even more of a threat," former New Zealand fast bowler and IPL winner Mitchell McClenaghan said on ESPNcricinfo's Time Out show. "And what I liked about him today was, particularly to Faf du Plessis, he didn't give him any width [which would've opened up the short boundary]. He had that ball keep on coming into him. Faf has historically struggled with that a little bit and he was able to keep the runs down. And in that powerplay, at the other end, the other bowlers were going for runs. They were getting targeted. If he hadn't have had a miserly over after one of those big overs, that powerplay might have been a 60-70 run powerplay launching them towards a 200 total."
Royals' slump towards the end of the season was marred with plans being poorly executed. A bowling unit that was defying the high-scoring trend this season conceded two 200-totals on the trot. Then their batting line-up started messing up. In Chennai and in Guwahati, they didn't show enough intent. A season where they'd occupied top spot in the points table for the longest time was in danger of falling apart.
During the slump, Samson called on his players to display some individual brilliance. In Ahmedabad, they got that. Ashwin defied this ground's tendency to hurt spinners with a spell of 4-0-19-2. Hetmyer came back from injury just in time to lend an important hand. Parag weathered that period where Kohli and RCB got the crowd going. Rovman Powell finished the game with very little fuss.
But pinning all of those contributions together were the plans RR made and executed to perfection.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo