Srinath Sripath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
Smart Strike Rates and Smart Economy Rates mentioned in this story are part of ESPNcricinfo's new metrics for T20 cricket, explained here in detail. Where relevant, the standard metrics (Strike-Rate and Economy Rate) are mentioned in brackets, for easier understanding and comparison.
Royals' batting-order jumble costs them dear
Rajasthan Royals' batting banks on the big-hitting abilities of D'Arcy Short, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler to complement the accumulative methods of Ajinkya Rahane and Sanju Samson, and in Rahul Tripathi, they have a Powerplay specialist (Smart Strike Rate: 201.82). But, in their opening game against arguably the strongest attack in the field, Royals jumbled up their batting order, and it cost them dear.
Short's run-out in the first over offered an ideal opportunity to send in Tripathi, but in walked Samson, who has been both a slower starter (first 10 balls SR: 114.16 to Tripathi's 139.28) and a faster accelerator at the death (Smart SR: 261.69, SR: 208.45). While his hitting somewhat made up for Rahane's slow start to push the Powerplay score up to 48 for 1, the decision to push Tripathi down hit them hard later.
Rashid Khan's introduction instantly dried up the run-flow, and Stokes, who has had his issues against top-quality wristspin (8 dismissals in 79 balls), perished after eleven balls without a boundary. When Tripathi finally walked out in the tenth over, the odds were stacked against him. His strike rate falls from 157.6 in the Powerplay to 123 in the middle overs, and his uncharacteristic 17 off 15 balls was possibly as much down to the pressure from Sunrisers' bowlers as to his deer-in-the-headlights syndrome in an unfamiliar phase of play.
When Samson fell after another eleven-ball boundary-less sequence, Royals found themselves at 95 for 5 after 14 overs, and with four overs of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Rashid Khan to come at the death, their game was all but over. Effectively, the domino effect caused by Tripathi's demotion saw them crumble to 7 for 77 in 14 post-Powerplay overs.
The most complete bowling attack going around in the IPL?
Sunrisers have two of the best T20 bowlers in Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Rashid Khan, and while the former had a relative off-day (Smart Economy Rate: 7.73) Rashid (Smart Economy Rate: 5.32) built dot-ball pressure through the middle overs and the death, which bowlers at the other end benefited from. Both of them will have better days, and facing eight out of 20 overs from them will be no mean task for opponents, but what stood out on Monday was Sunrisers' exceptional bowling depth.
Shakib Al Hasan did the business in the Powerplay when Bhuvneshwar went for runs, and his two overs went for just 12 runs in a phase where Royals scored at eight an over. He came back to pick up two wickets in the 14th over to derail the innings, ending with a Smart Economy Rate of 4.85.
Sunrisers' bowling depth bucks a widespread trend seen in franchise T20 tournaments, and batting sides will find it hard to go after their fourth and fifth bowlers to make up for lost ground against the big guns. On Monday, it was Siddarth Kaul with a game-changing 4-0-17-2, but it could well be Sandeep Sharma or Basil Thampi doing the job for Kane Williamson on another day. Their bowling arsenal looks the strongest in the field, and such early success offers ominous signs for opponents.
*All Smart Stats mentioned in the piece, except in-match numbers, are from IPL 2015 onwards