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Talking Points: Why did Ben Stokes open the batting for Royals, but bowl only one over?


Talking Points from the match between the Rajasthan Royals and the Sunrisers Hyderabad in Dubai.

Tewatia’s lucky break: the bails stay in their groove

During the Royals’ chase, Rahul Tewatia defied convention by deciding to attack Rashid Khan’s last over, the 18th, when most batsmen this season have opted to see him off and protect their wicket. He started by reverse-heaving two boundaries before flaying another over the covers. But when he then aimed to cut, he bottom-edged into wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow’s pad.

The ball then ricocheted into the stumps with Tewatia out of his crease, leaving him to rue what appeared to be an unfortunate stumping. But after the zing bails lit up, they landed back in their groove to give him a valuable reprise. It brought to mind the storm surrounding the bails in the 2019 World Cup, when they failed to be dislodged five times in the first two weeks of the tournament.

The non-dismissal proved crucial, too, with Tewatia and Parag sealing the win with a ball to spare after adding 85 between them in 7.5 overs for the sixth wicket.

Why did Ben Stokes open the batting?

For the second time in the IPL and the sixth time in his T20 career, Ben Stokes opened the batting for the Royals – as had been mooted on ESPNcricinfo’s Stump Mic podcast and by Tom Moody in our T20 Time:Out pre-match show.

The move didn’t work – he chopped on against Khaleel Ahmed for five – but there was plenty of logic behind it. Stokes has struggled in the middle order over the last two years, struggling to get started against spinners in the middle overs – since the start of the 2018 season, he has scored at a strike rate of 116.57 and averaged 18.16 against spin in the IPL. It also meant the Royals had a left-right opening combination, and in theory meant that Buttler should have been more free to play his shots, with Stokes the slower starter of the two and more likely to anchor the innings.

Having already made more changes than any other side in the tournament, the Royals will be reluctant to switch things around too much despite Stokes’ failure. This was Stokes’ first professional game for two months, coming immediately after his quarantine period, and was only his fourth white-ball appearance since the World Cup final in July 2019 – the fact that the move didn’t work on this occasion should not mean that it is canned for good.

Royals’ powerplay struggles

In their first game of the season, the Royals made 54 for 1 in the first six overs, and followed that up with 69 for 1 in their second. But in their last five, they have managed 185 runs in 30 powerplay overs while losing 12 wickets, and have been the IPL’s worst team in the first six overs. Today, they managed 36 for 3 and again seemed to be batting frenetically: perhaps the looming spectre of Rashid in the second half of the innings meant they felt they had to make the most of the fielding restrictions.

Their struggles have partly been down to Buttler and Steven Smith’s poor form, but also due to an unsettled batting line-up: Stokes and Buttler was their fourth different opening combination of the season, and their longest opening stand lasted only 2.4 overs. As a result, it seems unlikely that they will want to switch things around again, and will instead bank on their three overseas batsmen to come good at the top of the order.

What was behind Sunrisers’ slow start?

Despite only losing one wicket, the Sunrisers started very slowly, finishing the powerplay on 26 for 1: it was the joint third-lowest six-over score this IPL season, and the first time a team had only managed two boundaries in the powerplay.

Why? Knowing how reliant their openers are on Bairstow and David Warner’s opening partnership, the Royals decided to frontload, giving their two best bowlers – Jofra Archer and Shreyas Gopal – two overs each with the new ball. They hit their straps, meaning Warner and Bairstow decided to drop anchor and eke out only 13 runs from the first four.

When Kartik Tyagi came into the attack to bowl the third over, Bairstow had little option but to free his arms and look to make use of the fielding restrictions. He cracked him for two twos and a six, but then mistimed a pull and was caught in the deep, rewarding Smith’s aggressive captaincy move.

Is Warner Archer’s bunny?

Six innings, 41 balls, five dismissals: that is Warner’s head-to-head record against Archer in 2020. He gave him a torrid time in Australia’s T20I and ODI series in England, bowling high pace, and did similarly with the new ball today, bowling only one slower ball across his first two overs. Today’s dismissal was a little different, and Warner was cleaned up while backing away and looking to flay over the off side, but extended his poor run against Archer. As below, it also earned him a new console.

Kane Williamson: T20 finisher?

Two games in a row, the Sunrisers’ top order has laid a platform for their middle order: against the Kings XI, they lost their first wicket in the 16th over; today, they lost their second in the 15th.

On both occasions, the Sunrisers’ approach has led to questions about Kane Williamson’s role in their side. He has been listed to bat at No. 4, with Manish Pandey ahead of him performing an anchoring role, but their plan for the openers to bat far into the innings has left Williamson’s name looking somewhat out of place as a finisher with Mohammad Nabi and Fabian Allen both sitting on the bench.

But he has shown glimpses of his power game at the death in both games, with 20* off 10 against the Kings XI and 22* off 12 in this afternoon’s match. While he has shown his ability to adapt to an unfamiliar role, the fact that Williamson has only faced 66 balls across five innings this season seems like something for the Sunrisers think-tank to address.

Should Stokes have bowled more?

Stokes only bowled one over, which went for seven runs, with Tewatia bowling his full allocation and conceding 13 from his final over, the 16th. That might have been due to Stokes’ poor record with the ball since joining the Royals – average 35.64, economy 9.10 – or with a view to easing him back towards full match fitness: in his two most recent Tests for England, he bowled a total of four overs due to concerns about his quad muscle.

Either way, it seems likely that Stokes’ role with the ball this season will resemble Andre Russell’s for KKR: bowling short, sharp spells at crucial junctures rather than being one of their main options.





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