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RR vs MI: New skipper Steve Smith leads Rajasthan Royals to victory against Mumbai Indians

Steve Smith celebrated his return at the helm with a captain’s innings that powered Rajasthan Royals to a five-wicket victory over a formidable Mumbai Indians in an Indian Premier League encounter.

cricket Updated: Apr 21, 2019 11:04 IST
Abhishek Paul
Abhishek Paul
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
RR vs MI,Steve Smith,Rajasthan Royals
Rajasthan Royals' Steve Smith and Stuart Binny celebrate their victory.(AP)

Before Saturday, the last time Steve Smith spoke about the ‘leadership group’, it had left the Australian dressing room divided, in March, 2018. An irked Mitchell Starc had made known his irritation over his ex-captain blaming the ‘leadership group’ for the ball-tampering fiasco in the Cape Town Test against South Africa.

Those two words were back on Smith’s lips at the toss of his first match as Rajasthan Royals captain this season against Mumbai Indians. For him, Ajinkya Rahane, the man he replaced, was still part of his team’s ‘leadership group’.

But what he did not clarify was whether Rahane would still be expected to provide inputs from deep cover, deep mid-wicket, or even long on. Those were the slots Rahane was mostly positioned during the Mumbai Indians’ innings as Smith called the shots from extra cover.

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Mumbai Indians managed only 161/5 and Smith’s leadership began on a positive note as the former Australia skipper hit an unbeaten 59 to guide Royals to 162/5 with five balls to spare.

QUIET RAHANE

Rahane is no Starc and no public outburst is expected from a person of his calm disposition. For someone who led RR to the play-offs in 2018, on return after a two-year ban, the dethroning meant a fresh blow to an already battered image. He is no longer a regular in India’s limited overs teams, and a poor run in this IPL has seen him lose captaincy after eight matches.

Despite the jolt, the ex-skipper’s efforts showed sincerity, like in the 16th over when he almost ran out Hardik Pandya with an excellent throw. Again, he walked up to Jaydev Unadkat from long off the next over after Kieron Pollard had smoked him for six. Whatever Rahane told him, the next ball from the left-arm pacer, a slow cutter, castled the explosive West Indies batsman.

After that he was seen joining Smith on a couple of occasions. That was about it as the baton was passed, in a typically unobtrusive Rahane fashion.

However, Rahane’s drop was in the offing. An official said on condition of anonymity that the change of guard was made known to the players late on Friday after informing BCCI, as is the norm for change of captaincy. However, in the last couple of matches it was Smith who could be seen doing the bulk of field placements.

Smith, on his part, used the bowlers well on Saturday, keeping his best bowlers Jofra Archer and Unadkat for the last. That meant despite a 97-run second wicket stand between Suryakumar Yadav and Quinton de Kock, MI reached only 161 after scoring 112 in 15 overs.

Before Saturday, Rahane had managed 201 in eight matches. Only 12 was added in the ninth. Rahane has looked impatient and vulnerable and it was evident again.

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Opening in the chase, Rahane hit spinner Rahul Chahar for back-to-back boundaries in the fourth over. But he flattered to deceive with his end coming in the same over. Off a fuller delivery from Chahar, Rahane could not keep his shot down and the catch was taken brilliantly at cover by Suryakumar Yadav.

The 11-ball innings added another chapter to Rahane’s tortuous journey this IPL. With each day, the batsman who was so vital to India till two seasons back, seems to be withdrawing into himself. He has not played an ODI since February, 2018. In Tests too, he has not scored a century since August 2017.

He will have to dig deep to make that determination count, and find redemption. Smith will be in charge at least till May 1 when he heads to Australia for World Cup preparations.

First Published: Apr 20, 2019 20:23 IST