Rajasthan Royals' Cool, Clever and Clean Play Could Take Them a Long Way in IPL

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Rajasthan Royals' Cool, Clever and Clean Play Could Take Them a Long Way in IPL
Uncredited/Associated Press

Wicket, one run, wicket, dot ball, wicket, dot ball, wicket (stumping) off wide ball, wicket, wicket.

This extraordinary sequence of eight legitimate deliveries—which gained the Rajasthan Royals six wickets, including a hat-trick for Pravin Tambe, against the Kolkata Knight Riders at Ahmedabad in the Indian Premier League on Monday—has got to be one of the most extraordinary plays ever witnessed on a cricket field.

This tournament has seen its fair share of controversies over the last six years, with many questioning its legitimacy due to ongoing investigations on betting and spot-fixing in the previous season, but Monday marked a victory for the fans of the game who chose to stick by.

The Rajasthan Royals won a match they were destined to lose up until the 14th over of the second innings, when the Kolkata Knight Riders needed 50 off 36 balls with all 10 wickets in hand.

The events that followed would embarrass even the best of chokers, as Kolkata stunningly collapsed from 121 for no loss to 123 for six in a matter of eight deliveries and went on to lose the match by 10 runs.

While much would be said and written about KKR's perennial inability to finish off matches from winning positions, the Royals should not be discredited for their effort, not just in this game, but overall in the season.

The Kings XI Punjab and Chennai Super Kings have made most of the positive headlines this season and lead the points table. However, with this win—their fourth on the trot—the Royals are on par with the two heavyweights on points (10), only trailing by net run rate, at the time of writing.

Known to be the Moneyball franchise of the IPL, the Royals spent the least out of the eight teams in the player auction and shelled out the most for uncapped players, per Wisden India.

Apart from captain Shane Watson, the only other superstar in their camp is former skipper and current mentor Rahul Dravid.

Their hat-trick man on Monday, Pravin Tambe, who is now also the leading wicket-taker in the season, cost less than $17,000, compared to some of the other teams' million-dollar purchases.

Their head coach, Paddy Upton, is no famous ex-international cricketer, but a former mental conditioning coach of the Indian cricket team.

During a chat with the commentators on Monday, Upton made an interesting point when he said that the team does not have any experts aiding them, but he expects all the players to bring the expertise.

Compare this to other teams, such as the defending champions Mumbai Indians, who not only have expensive celebrity players but also names such as Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Ricky Ponting, Jonty Rhodes and John Wright in the support staff assisting them.

The irony shines through in bright neon lights, considering Mumbai's current position at the bottom of the points table.

In all of Rajasthan's five wins in seven matches so far, it hasn't been one or two individuals who the entire team has piggybacked on.

What is interesting to note is that the Royals are represented by just one player each in the top 10 leading runscorers (Ajinkya Rahane, sixth) and wicket-takers (Pravin Tambe, first) in the season so far.

In spite of this, their unit has managed to carve out wins and find themselves in a healthy position on the table. Watson, Sanju Samson, Karun Nair, Steven Smith, Kane Richardson and James Faulkner have all chipped in with valuable contributions.

Rajasthan's style of play is clean, clever, full of heart and backed by a solid, unflagging team effort.

When two runs were required off one delivery to win a match, Steven Smith chose to tap the ball into the gap and run, rather than going for what could have been a costly slog.

On Monday, Kolkata's Andre Russell sparked a debate while bowling when he slowed down in his tracks and almost backed out of his run-up before charging back and going ahead with the delivery:

Royals skipper Shane Watson, who was the on-strike batsman at the time and was visibly upset with the umpire for not declaring it a dead-ball, chose to have his revenge not by a tit-for-tat, but via a clearly legitimate slower delivery that castled Russell when he came to bat.

In the end, Watson was to have the last laugh with three wickets in an over, topped by his team's spectacular win.

KKR may have thrown the match away on Monday, but it was Rajasthan who snapped at the gap in the door when Watson took three wickets in the 15th over. Forty-nine runs from 30 balls was still a target one expected KKR to reach with seven wickets in hand, only for the 42-year-old Tambe to enter and bamboozle the Knight Riders.

After KKR were left with just their last four wickets in hand and 45 runs to win from the last four overs, the Royals went for the kill as a pack and strangled the opposition. Never before had a team lost a game in the IPL after the openers had put on a stand of more than 100 runs. However, the Royals ensured that KKR succumbed to what was one of the most unfathomable collapses ever and bagged a welcome two points.

The Royals had put in a similarly solid display last season, reaching the knockouts, in spite of finding themselves right in the middle of the corruption scandal that erupted toward the end. Their eventual elimination would have been a bitter pill to swallow, especially for Dravid, who was playing his last competitive tournament.

However, the Royals, with the same core as last season, are back to their best, displaying supreme teamwork, astuteness and courage on the field. The memories of last season seem nothing more than an aberration.

Punjab and Chennai may be the favourites, but these boys in blue are very much alive, and roaring in their unique, inconspicuous way.

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