RR vs DC: Steve Smith has week to define Rajasthan Royals’ fate in IPL 2019
Steve Smith did his leadership credentials of old no harm by leading Rajasthan Royals to victory over Mumbai Indians after the franchise sacked Ajinkya Rahane mid-season in a desperate bid to turn around their struggling campaign. It will continue to be a battle for survival as the hosts chase a play-off spot as they take on a rejuvenated Delhi Capitals on Monday.
When Smith was heavily blamed for last year’s ball-tampering scandal during Australia’s tour of South Africa, stripped of captaincy and banned for a year, there were serious doubts about his comeback as well as redemption against passionate fans back home.
While this IPL season was his comeback route, and though his World Cup selection wasn’t really in doubt considering how desperate Australia are to use his batting class, impressing as a leader in the T20 league will always help win over more critics.
Smith was more hands-on on Saturday. There were dynamic field and bowling changes and the chase was masterfully led by Smith – he remained unbeaten and shepherded the 17-year-old Riyan Parag in a 70-run stand.
However, time is also running out as many big players, including Smith, are approaching the deadlines for returning home for World Cup preparation. Like other teams, RR will also be without many key players by the end of the week. Jos Buttler has already left and fellow England players Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer will head home on or before April 25). Smith is due to leave after that with Australia’s World Cup camp starting in Brisbane on May 2.
Between April 22 and April 30, RR play four crucial matches – against Delhi Capitals (Monday), KKR (April 25), SRH (April 27) and RCB (April 30). Royals coach Paddy Upton said the team was aware of the situation and had picked the squad keeping the disruption in mind.
“The Royals did know we were going to lose players so we picked team accordingly. We have Oshane Thomas should Jofra go. We have a replacement in Liam Livingstone for Buttler. For Smith and Stokes, Ashton Turner is there. We have nice cover so that we are not left with gaping holes in terms of foreign players,” Upton had said last week.
Saturday’s win seemed to suggest RR have finally got the combination right.
However, Delhi Capitals too arrive having turned things around to rise to third with the victory over Kings XI Punjab, their sixth win. But Delhi have been inconsistent and top heavy.
Their win over KXIP saw the team play as a unit and that will boost confidence. Delhi will again bank on the anchoring role being played by Shikhar Dhawan as well as skipper Shreyas Iyer. Both were instrumental with the bat against KXIP.
Capitals’ bowling relies heavily on South Africa pacer Kagiso Rabada with leg-spinners Sandeep Lamichhane and Amit Mishra providing excellent support. For Delhi, it’s a chance to cement their spot for the playoffs, but will be wary that their opponents will be keen to raise the level in their survival battle.