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Samson: 'We were short of options in the middle overs against spin'

Sangakkara also said RR have to be a "lot more clinical" in run-chases

Deivarayan Muthu
The lack of a proactive batting approach against Sunrisers Hyderabad's left-arm fingerspinners on a dry Chepauk pitch, which offered more purchase to the slower bowlers in the second innings, cost Rajasthan Royals a spot in the IPL 2024 final. This is the assessment of their captain Sanju Samson after they managed only 139 for 7 in their pursuit of 176 in the second qualifier in Chennai on Friday.
"I think we were found short of options in the middle overs against spin, and I think that's where we lost the game," Samson said after the game. "Against left-arm spin, we had three-four right-handers in the middle and the ball was stopping. But we could've tried a bit more [options] - reverse-sweep or use of the crease a bit more - and they [SRH] also bowled really well, actually.
"It's actually very hard to guess - when we can expect dew or not [in Chennai]. So, the wicket started behaving differently in the second innings. The ball started turning a bit and they used the advantage and bowled spin in the middle overs against our right-handers and that's where they were one-up against us."
The Chepauk track had offered an average turn of 1.8 degrees in the first innings, but that number jumped up to 3.3 degrees in the second, according to the host broadcaster. SRH had left out their main spinners, Vijayakanth Viyaskanth and Mayank Markande, for this knockout game. But Shahbaz Ahmed, who was subbed in as an Impact Player more for his batting than bowling, combined with Abhishek Sharma for figures of 8-0-47-5. Aiden Markram also found sharp turn in the only over that he bowled.
Yashasvi Jaiswal reverse-swept the first ball he faced from Shahbaz to the shorter off-side boundary, but later in the same over, he holed out for 42 off 21 balls. SRH then matched up their left-arm spinners with RR's right-hander heavy middle-order to damage the chase. Kumar Sangakkara, RR's director of cricket, echoed Samson's comments, suggesting their batters should've shown more intent and game-awareness to throw Shahbaz and Abhishek off their lengths and lines.
"I think we've got to be a lot more clinical in our chases and these games are not won quite easily," Sangakkara said at his post-match press conference. "Jaiswal getting out at that stage brought the left-arm spinners into the game and after that it was a little difficult, but it was a case of just hanging in there and getting the pace of the wicket again and getting the hang of the bowler. As Dhruv Jurel showed, if you show intent and if you play smart shots, you can chase a score, but, unfortunately, we weren't good enough on the day. I thought the Sunrisers held in, they batted deep, and their bowlers did a great job for them."

Samson: 'RR have found some great talent for India'

Sangakkara, however, was pleased with how the season panned out for them overall. RR were the early pace-setters winning eight of their first nine games before they lost four in a row and somehow scrapped to the second qualifier, despite Jos Buttler leaving the IPL for England duty towards the business end of the tournament. RR also had to contend with an injury to their finisher Shimron Hetmyer midway through the season.
"I think it was a great season for us," Sangakkara said. "We started really well and then we lost a close game to SRH in Hyderabad. And then in Delhi also we put ourselves in winning positions and sometimes you have streaks. RCB lost almost every game at the start and then caught up. That's how T20 goes.
"All we can do is to put ourselves in positions for playoffs and vying for finals, which we did. I think all the guys through the season played really phenomenal cricket and there was a little bit of fatigue, of course, at the back end. But it doesn't really matter when you're in games like this - you've got to turn up and perform."
Samson was also impressed with how a number of players stepped up for RR through the season. He singled out Riyan Parag and Jurel for special praise, saying they could be match-winners for India too. Parag ended the season with 573 runs in 14 innings at a strike rate of just under 150 - only Ruturaj Gaikwad and Virat Kohli have scored more runs than him this season - while Jurel played some sparkling cameos.
"To be very honest, we've had some brilliant games not only this season, but the last three years have been a great project for our franchise," Samson said. "We've found some really great talent for the country, I think. Riyan Parag coming out of this season and Dhruv Jurel and a lot of them are looking really exciting, not only for RR but for the Indian cricket team."

Sangakkara: 'We are just lucky to have Sandeep'

On the bowling front, Sandeep Sharma, who was once a powerplay specialist in the IPL, has excelled for RR along with Avesh Khan, who had been traded in from Lucknow Super Giants ahead of IPL 2024. Sandeep was also on point with his variations in the second qualifier against SRH, coming away with the big wickets of Travis Head and Heinrich Klaasen while giving up just 25 runs in his four overs. Sangakkara heaped praise on Sandeep for refashioning himself into a death bowler.
"I think it's just a case of changing his role. We always knew that a lot of sides used him upfront but with his pace and skill, we identified that he will be very, very effective for us in the middle and at the back end," Sangakkara said. That's what we tasked him with.
"We didn't have the services of Prasidh Krishna again. Navdeep Saini was injured, and he was coming back from a big shoulder injury and came [in] halfway through the season. For two seasons now, Sandeep has been absolutely outstanding for us. He's just a mature cricketer and he knows exactly what he can do and can't do, and he sticks to the basics. He tries to swing the new ball and once he's out of it, he changes his pace and he's got incredible skill and we're just lucky to have him."

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo