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Match Analysis

Selfless and versatile Rahul Tripathi finally getting his due

Long gone under the radar among the superstars of the IPL, he is now producing results that no one can fail to notice

At one level, batting in T20 has grown increasingly specialised. There are powerplay hitters and end-overs hitters, pace hitters and spin hitters, and the most successful teams line up all their specialists in a way that gets the best out of their specific skillsets.
Every now and again, though, a batter will come along who defies easy categorisation. What box, for instance, do you put Rahul Tripathi in?
This graph features a small collection of batters who've faced at least 150 balls of pace and 100 balls of spin in the IPL since the start of 2020, and who have strike rates of 120 or above against both styles of bowling. If your favourite player isn't in this graphic, he's failed to meet at least one of these criteria. Shimron Hetmyer, for instance, has a strike rate of 183.33 against pace but has gone at just 113.46 against spin.
Of the batters who've met the qualification critera, only six - Mayank Agarwal, Jos Buttler, Kieron Pollard, Nicholas Pooran, Sanju Samson and Prithvi Shaw - have managed 140-plus strike rates against both pace and spin.
Tripathi falls just outside this group, striking at 144.59 against pace and 138.69 against spin.
In the same time span, only four batters who've faced at least 100 balls in both phases have managed to strike at 125-plus in the powerplay and 140-plus in the middle overs: Agarwal, Buttler, Shaw and, once again, Tripathi.
And while he's only got to face 42 balls in the death overs in these three seasons, Tripathi has shown he can handle the demands of that phase as well, scoring 78 runs at a strike rate of 185.71.
If this versatility has made Tripathi a valuable asset at multiple IPL teams, it's also kept him from having a settled role at - and becoming an indispensable member of - any of those teams. The versatility hasn't been the only double-edged sword in his locker; his batting also exudes a sense of selflessness that is perhaps both cause and consequence of his relatively under-the-radar existence among the superstars of the IPL. Relatively, because he's clearly valued by those within the game: Sunrisers Hyderabad shelled out INR 8.5 crore to beat off rival bidders at the auction in February.
How do you quantify selflessness? Well, this season, Tripathi has a strike rate of 158.13 over his first 10 balls. He's always been quick off the blocks, and was encouraged by his previous franchise, Kolkata Knight Riders, to bat that way. Knight Rideres try to play that way right through their innings, and the fact that their batters haven't scored a single hundred in the IPL since the inaugural match of the tournament is perhaps a consequence of that style of play.
Tripathi, unsurprisingly, hasn't crossed a lot of personal milestones in these last three seasons: just the four fifties in 32 innings, and an average of 29.55. KL Rahul, who in the same period has drawn a significant amount of criticism for his conservative approach in the powerplay and middle overs, has 13 scores of 50 or more in the same number of innings, and an average of 52.88. His strike rate (133.20) isn't as good as Tripathi's (142.50), of course, but while you can debate the relative merits of their approaches from the perspective of winning T20 games, nothing brings wider recognition - and international selection - quicker than scoring mountains of runs.
Just for now, though, Tripathi's sails seem to have caught the winds of a rare and heightened sort of ball-striking form, and his versatility and selflessness are combining to produce results that no one can fail to acknowledge. After five innings in IPL 2022, he has 171 runs at an average of 57.00 and a strike rate of 178.12. Among batters who have faced at least 50 balls this season, only Dinesh Karthik, Liam Livingstone and Andre Russell have better strike rates. In Tripathi's wake sit Hetmyer, Shivam Dube and Shaw.
Tripathi's new-age virtues and new-age numbers are the products of a style that's mostly but not entirely old-school. On Friday night, for instance, he tried, and failed, to lap-scoop Pat Cummins over short fine leg off the first legal ball he faced.
At most other times, however, Tripathi brings to the crease a turbocharged version of longer-format virtues. Quick judgment of length, for one, and quick feet.
When Andre Russell bowled a short ball designed to cramp Tripathi for room, he unweighted his front foot in an instant and swivelled on his back foot to pull it for a flat six.
Then, when Varun Chakravarthy - who usually delivers flatter trajectories and shorter lengths than most spinners - seemed to develop a puzzling tendency to float the ball into the slot, Tripathi responded with three glorious, back-to-back lofted drives over extra-cover. As you watched the replays from side-on, however, you began to wonder if these balls were really that full, because Tripathi was stretching so far forward that he was ending up with his back knee on the ground.
As impressive as the length of Tripathi's stride was how he maintained his shape at the end of it, never lifting his head too early, and each time finishing with left elbow high and bat face pointing skywards.
The shots kept coming, with no prolonged intervals of risk-free strike rotation. The first 10 balls brought Tripathi 22 runs, and by the time he'd faced 20 balls he was on 49. His fifty was the joint-second-fastest of IPL 2022, and when he was done he had left Sunrisers Hyderabad, who were chasing 176, just 43 to get off 34 balls.
This was a special innings, certainly; it was one of those times when form and conditions - both teams suggested later that dew had made life considerably easier for Sunrisers' batters - conspire to add an almost otherworldly layer of fluency to a batter's efforts. But it was also, in its own way, a typical Tripathi innings: packed with skill and intent against both pace and spin, gathering pace even after the fields spread out, and entirely selfless.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo