Tough conditions can bring about some compelling cricket, and a few rather quirky ideas. Such was the case in Jaipur when Rajasthan Royals experimented with Ben Stokes opening the batting. Now he had never done so in the IPL. His team was fighting to stay alive in this IPL. Chennai Super Kings had put up a better-than-par score of 176 on the board. There was a fair bit of risk. But Shane Warne just said why not.
The Royals’ mentor did offer a more nuanced explanation, which Jos Buttler relayed to the host broadcaster at the end of a match-winning unbeaten 95 off 60 balls. “At the half time. He [Stokes] was just struggling a little bit with his hamstring, whether it was cramp or something else, he was struggling with his running. And as we’ve seen on this ground, actually in the middle overs, trying to push twos and run hard when boundaries are a little harder.
“Shane Warne sort of said why don’t you go at the top and play with some freedom and try and see if that comes off because he felt like he was going to find it hard in the middle with his running. I kept nicking the strike off him at the top, but it was a nice experiment and I think Shane Warne has obviously been a proactive guy and thought why not, let’s try it.”
The change in batting order may have forced Chennai Super Kings to basically use up their spinners in the Powerplay on a pitch where, once the ball got soft, it became hard to hit.
Fancy tactics aside, Stokes made only 11 runs and Royals needed someone to bat through the innings. Buttler did just that. He wanted to be there at the end so badly that he stowed away his usual flamboyance. A batsman renowned for his shots behind the wicket when the pressure was on scored only 21 runs between backward point and backward square leg. There was, however, one moment of brilliance when he reverse-swept the medium-pace of Shane Watson for four in the 16th over.
The CSK coach suggested the bowlers needed to be more accurate when the pressure was on
“I’m 100% committed when he’s at the end of his mark, really. I just felt like we needed a boundary, and actually, watching KL Rahul bat here the other day in the last over, against Jaydev, he played a few reverse sweeps and that made me think maybe that was a good option. It’s a shot I’m quite confident with and I wasn’t really finding the boundary elsewhere.”
Keeping in mind how hard it was to time the ball when pace was taken off it, Royals made a conscious push during the Powerplay, with Buttler scoring 40 out of 57 runs.
“I had some interesting conversations at the time out. Initially, we were going well and it was just trying to keep that going. I talked about just trying not to lose my intent. You know, [in] a few games, having come out of the Powerplay, I’ve felt like I’ve lost that boundary option so I was trying to [address] that.
“And as we saw when we bowled, how it got harder and harder, the decision was whether we try to win the game earlier, and get it down to nearer a run a ball for the last three or four overs or trying to take it deep. And I think we were sort of a little bit taken [aback] by what bowlers they bowled at certain times and it dictated [our plans] a bit.”
Cue some good fortune as well. Buttler was dropped three times – two rather difficult return catches to Watson and Dwayne Bravo and one with MS Dhoni diving full length to his left to hunt down a failed scoop shot. And he needed a big-hitting bailout from K Gowtham who struck two sixes in the penultimate over to bring the equation down from 28 off 12 to only 12 off 6.
“Krishnappa Gowtham, as well, coming in and hitting sixes. He’s done it time and time again this IPL and that takes a huge amount of pressure off me. And when you get to 12 off the over, you’re always just thinking it’s always two hits away. I got quite lucky, few half chances going down and the guys running into each other when DJ would’ve probably caught that.”