“Don’t give up on us, guys. Not yet, anyway,” Shane Warne quipped after his team had lost their third straight match.
Warne’s plea, clearly well-meant and coming from a seemingly unquenchable font of self-belief, might be enough to charm the media and public, but it probably won’t keep his bosses at the Rajasthan Royals at bay for long if the results keep going against them.
The problem for Warne is personnel. Through the absence of key players, either because of injury (Graeme Smith, Dimitri Mascarenhas) or unavailability (Shane Watson), Warne has been forced to field a team that will struggle to win consistently. While the injuries are unfortunate, the Royals have made a virtue of not splurging big salaries on marquee international players. And this has come back to bite them where it hurts.
Michael Lumb and Damien Martyn, the latest flavours of the month, are feeling their way around the IPL, and the team’s campaign could well be done and dusted before they fire on all cylinders. “The way I see it you need to win seven matches with a good run rate, or eight matches to be safe, in order to make the semis,” said Warne. That task looks an uphill one.
With key players missing, the onus of scoring has been placed heavily on Yusuf Pathan, who is not the most reliable of batsmen in the best of times. Yusuf’s explosive hitting has no parallel in the T20 game, but he has been found out too often at the international level, and it seems that IPL teams are zeroing in on to what needs to be done to keep him in check.
The Royal Challengers provided a blueprint of how to stifle Yusuf, with Dale Steyn firing in perfectly targeted bouncers, Jacques Kallis coming round the stumps and banging the ball in, offering no width, and even R Vinay Kumar using slower bouncers to good effect. Of course, the execution was perfect on the day, and this helped, but at least there’s a clear strategy in place now. “If teams want to bounce Yusuf, I wish them luck. When someone like Steyn is accurate at 150ks, it’s hard even for a good player of the short ball. Even Ricky Ponting has been hit on the helmet in the past,” said Warne, in defence of his strike batsman.
The explanations are all valid, but none of them puts points on the table. The sooner the Royals admit this, the better their chances of turning things around.