“This isn’t the kind of pitch where you can just come in and tee off.”
R Ashwin is as good a judge of conditions in a cricket match as there can be. Jaipur is merely his adopted home ground but he was spot on.
Batting is best when you can trust the bounce. You need it to hit through the line. You need it to slog across it. You need it to feel good at the crease. And when it goes missing, things like this game happen.
Rajasthan Royals’ bowlers, right from the first over, which was a maiden from Trent Boult, got the ball to skid through low enough that getting under it and putting power on it just became impossible. They also did not give up the stumps – according to ESPNcricinfo’s ball-by-ball data, 94 of the 120 balls ended up on or just outside the line of those three LED sticks.
The result of all this was that Lucknow Super Giants had precious little opportunity to play their power game. They couldn’t go over the top. They couldn’t free their arms. Their 37 for 0 was comfortably the lowest powerplay score of the season for no wickets lost.
To their credit, KL Rahul and Kyle Mayers found a bit of second wind. They targeted the one bowler who wasn’t suited to these conditions. Yuzvendra Chahal is great at tossing the ball up and wide, preying on sloggers’ desire to hit him leg side and getting them caught off mis-hits. He tried that, only for Mayers and Rahul to connect cleanly, and once that happened, he tried bowling shorter, but because he is slow through the air, they just sat up to be smashed.
Super Giants had built an 18-run over on top of an 13-run over. They were 74 for 0 in nine and ESPNcricinfo’s forecaster had them reaching 173. They finished on 154.
And that was a function of the pitch. It can be frustrating to see Rahul, who holds the record for the fastest fifty of the tournament, a 14-ball blitz in 2018 – go through the IPL with a strike rate of 114.79, the third-lowest among those who have scored at least 50 runs this year. But this time it wasn’t his fault. Even a player of Jos Buttler’s calibre was 5 off 14 early on and a hitter of Shimron Hetmyer’s calibre was caught somewhere near the 30-yard circle when he was looking to clear the whole ground.
Jaipur just didn’t get the memo. In its first IPL game in nearly four years, it rolled the red carpet out for the people who practice the wrong discipline. And there wasn’t any dew either. So on top of not being able to get under the ball, batters also had to deal with it not coming on nicely. It’s the reason why 10 of the 20 overs in the chase produced six or fewer runs.
“It’s not one of those innings that I dream of playing,” Mayers, the top-scorer of the match with 51 off 42, said before explaining why run-scoring had been so difficult.
“The variable bounce was the hardest thing. The way their bowlers used the wicket, you thought you had the length to get under, but it was tough, it was sliding. So I just tried to aim straight. I also tried to give the bowlers my stumps and tried to hit through the off side as much as possible.”
Were Rajasthan Royals left surprised by the slowness of their ‘home’ ground?
Tom Moody and Amol Muzumdar on the pitch and what to expect from future games at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium
In the end, Super Giants were able to put in enough of a squeeze to come away with victory. But there is still one nagging issue that keeps following them.
Nicholas Pooran has faced only 85 balls in this IPL. That is an average of 14 per innings. Only twice has he come in with anywhere near half the innings left to bat – and one of those was against Royal Challengers Bangalore when he showed just how valuable he can be when he’s given time in the middle, finishing with 62 off 19. Thanks to that innings he has the second-highest strike rate (200) for anyone who has faced at least 25 balls at this year’s competition.
Why is this happening? Why is a player who is incredibly talented and on top of that in a rich vein of current form limited to cameo appearances?
When asked to make sense of this, Tom Moody, an IPL-winning coach, on ESPNcricinfo’s T20 Time:Out show, said “I can’t. Between Pooran and [Marcus] Stoinis, I think they’ve faced a total sum of 36 balls in a 120-ball game. That’s two specialist batters, Stoinis isn’t bowling [a lot], I think that’s bizarre that they’re only facing that many deliveries when there was an opportunity for one or the other to come in at the fall of the first wicket after such a solid start.”
The only possible reason is that Super Giants aren’t particularly confident about the rest of the lower-middle order.
The upshot of having Pooran in early is obvious. He gets more time in the middle, he scores more runs, their chances of winning increase. But teams in a high stakes tournament like the IPL also have to budget for their plans backfiring. So what happens if Pooran bats at No. 3 and falls for a first-ball duck? Who finishes the innings then?
It isn’t the most attractive way to play the game. Nor is it a particularly ringing endorsement of the player’s capabilities. Pooran has scored most of his T20I runs at No. 3 for West Indies – 614 out of 1486 at an average of 32 and a strike rate of 132.
But it is a form of damage limitation. IPL games usually go down to the wire. The past few days have made that perfectly clear. In that situation, teams prefer their biggest gun in the middle. Super Giants have decided that that is Pooran and if that means he only gets to face an average of 14 balls an innings, so be it. He’s still striking at 200 and, after six games, they’re shy of first place only on net run rate.