A bowler seldom has the advantage of getting a look-in at what the batsman’s about to do. On the other hand, a batsman can try and read what a bowler’s about to do through the release, and even pick up the length at the same point. Call it unfair advantage or anything else you would, the dynamics of the game are such. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons we call it the batsman’s game. Having said that, there is something a bowler enjoys in the T20 format. Most batsmen have to go after them from the word go, and this gives bowlers plenty of wicket-taking opportunities, provided they stick to a plan. That’s the key word – plan – something bowlers have to carry out thoroughly while backing themselves against those swinging bats.
A great spell by a bowler can turn the game within the space of a few balls. It can even build immense pressure and help bowlers at the other end get breakthroughs. During Vivo IPL 2019, some the Rajasthan Royals bowlers made life absolutely difficult for really good batsman; even on batting-friendly surfaces. They rolled by the basics, added application to their plans, and when some of the plans didn’t work, they adapted immediately, finding other ways to subdue batsmen. Let’s revisit some magnificent spells by the Royals that had a great impact on the game.
Shreyas Gopal: Hat-trick vs RCB, Bengaluru
This man had one over to bowl, after the rain reduced the game to a five-overs-a-side contest. With Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers off to a flyer in front of their home crowd in Bengaluru, the odds were against all the bowlers, but one. Gopal had dismissed both of them during our earlier encounter in Jaipur with deceivingly beautiful deliveries.
The over didn’t start on a good note for Gopal. He was taken apart by Kohli, who smashed a six and a four off back to back deliveries. On the fourth ball, Gopal silenced the Chinnaswamy crowd, also his home-ground for Karnataka, as he tossed one up and got Kohli to mistime the ball down to Livingstone at long on. ABD had crossed over and was on strike for the next delivery. He had a wile swipe to a tossed up leg-spinner, only to miscue it to Riyan Parag. Gopal had a double over Kohli and ABD in the season with these consecutive wickets.
That wasn’t to be the end of the story though. In walked Marcus Stoinis, another big-hitter. The Aussie took on Gopal and tried to go over mid-off who was up in the ring. But, he didn’t get it all, and Smit took a good catch to give Gopal the elusive hat-trick. Interestingly, Gopal is no alien to hat-tricks in the T20 format. With this one, he has the highest number of hat-tricks by an Indian in T20 cricket – tied with Amit Mishra and Yuvraj Singh. Gopal ensured that he put the brakes on RCB’s scoring in the innings with just 3 amazing deliveries.
Jofra Archer: 3/15 vs KXIP, Mohali
Powerplay or death overs – it didn’t matter to Jofra Archer. He would grab any opportunity to bowl with both hands and a wide smile. Archer was quite the menace for most batsmen this season. He conceded runs at a miserly economy rate of 6.7, and claimed 11 wickets in all.
One of his finest performances came against Kings XI Punjab in Mohali. Archer had misjudged a catch offered by Gayle at the boundary in the second over, but he made amends soon enough when he got his chance to bowl at him. A skillful cutter got Gayle squared up and the ball found the edge. He got rid of the danger-man right after he had got set.
Archer returned during the death overs. In the 19th, he gave away just 3 runs and clamed two wickets, keeping KXIP from a late flourish. He got rid of Pooran off the second delivery at cover, and bowled another deceptive slower one that got Mandeep Singh chopping on. Archer finished with 3/15 – his best bowling figures in the Vivo IPL so far.
Varun Aaron: 2/20 vs KKR, Kolkata
This was Varun Aaron’s maiden Vivo IPL season with Rajasthan Royals. He got his first game, at home, against RCB, but bowled just one over. Aaron returned to the playing XI a few games later, in Kolkata, against KKR. The Eden is one of his favourite venues to bowl on and the pitch assists seamers if they bowl the right line and length.
Aaron opened the bowling and got the ball to swing and bounce quite a bit. He hit the right length as well and seemed to be troubling Chris Lynn. On the third delivery, he bowled a length delivery outside off that jagged back in sharply. Going by the length, Lynn attempted a cut, but dragged the ball back on to his stumps. Aaroin was fired up, and his pace was right up there. Aaron got things going with a maiden over.
Aaron bowled a fine second over as well, conceding just three runs. Smith handed him a third straight over, searching for one more early breakthrough. Aaron responded on the last ball of the over, with what was possibly the best ball bowled by a Rajasthan Royals pacer throughout the season. He landed the ball outside off, in the corridor and got Shubman Gill to play with an angled bat. The ball snuck back in sharply and castled him. Gill was left dumbstruck before he walked back to the pavilion. Varun contributed further with a good catch and inflicted a run-out as well.
Oshane Thomas: 2/28 vs SRH, Jaipur
The big Jamaican got his opportunities during the last few games of the season, but he didn’t disappoint. He had soon become a team favourite, and chants of ‘OT, OT, OT’ became common. OT’s Vivo IPL career got underway during our away game against KKR, and his maiden wicket was that of fellow Jamaican and the league’s MVP – Andre Russell.
In his second game, he continued from where he left off. After keeping it tight in his first two overs against the likes of Warner, Williamson and Pandey, Oshane returned for his third over. Warner was struggling right through his stay. He had scored 37 runs without hitting a single boundary or a six. Oshane put an end to the struggles by bowling a short one at Warner that got high on him as he heaved. Smith pulled out an absolute blinder to complete the catch. So, after the Russell, Oshane dismised the Orange Cap holder of the league as well.
Bowling his final over in the 18th, Oshane proved too hard to get away for the SRH batsmen. He conceded just 6 runs and got Wriddhiman Saha to edge one to Samson. Thomas finished with figures of 2/28 in what was a must-win game for Rajasthan Royals. The Jamaican had announced himself in style during his first two appearances for the Royals.
Ish Sodhi: 3/26 vs DC, Delhi
Ish Sodhi signed off in style during our last game of the league. Trying to defend just 115 against Delhi Capitals, Sodhi was brought into the attack in the Powerplay, on a dry, spin-friendly surface. Delhi had got off to a sound start courtesy their openers, Shikhar Dhawan and Prithvi Shaw.
Sodhi ended their stay within minutes, dismissing the duo off his first two deliveries of the game. Dhawan looked to take the attack to the Kiwi, but got height and very little distance. Parag ran backwards and took a well-judged catch. On the next delivery, Shaw tried to cut a flat one from Sodhi, that didn’t turn much. He only managed an inside edge and the ball rolled back on to the stumps. Sodhi got us right into the game with the double strike.
After being at the receiving end against Pant, Sodhi made a good comeback, when he induced a false sweep off Ingram. Sodhi flighted the ball well up, and it bounced after landing. Ingram ended up playing under the ball, which took his glove and was taken safely by Rahane. Sodhi, along with the other spinners gave us a glimmer of hope In the second innings, and he finished on 3/26.
Our bowlers gave their all under testing conditions. Some of them made great comebacks as well after being dispatched around the park. Gopal ended up as RR’s leading wicket-taker of the season with 20 scalps. He was followed by Archer who had 11 to his name. The two led our bowling in the spin and pace department respectively, and stood out by a fair distance. Many of our bowlers are young and supremely talented. The future holds great rewards for them.