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Rahane at the heart of royal slowdown

ESPNcricinfo logo ESPNcricinfo 16-05-2018 Sreshth Shah
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(Video by ESPN Cricinfo)

It's no mean feat silencing the home crowd at Eden Gardens, but here they were, battered into submission inside the first ten minutes of their final home game of the season. They were shellshocked after the Rajasthan Royals openers had just struck ten consecutive boundaries.

Rahul Tripathi had just hit a six and a hat-trick of fours off young Prasidh Krishna. The other young pacer, Shivam Mavi, was creamed for 28 runs by Jos Buttler the very next over. In all - before Tripathi fell in the fifth over - Royals had posted 63.

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Early evidence suggested Kolkata Knight Riders would be chasing a mammoth total. The platform was set, Buttler was galloping towards yet another fifty at breakneck speed, and the Royals dugout still had Ben Stokes, Sanju Samson, Stuart Binny and K Gowtham waiting to have a go. But out came Ajinkya Rahane, who took six deliveries to get off the mark, and that signalled a change in Royals' fortunes.

Yes, he was facing Sunil Narine inside the Powerplay, and the early blitz had given him the cushion to start slow, but Rahane looked uneasy. A glance to gully couldn't breach the field, the drive to cover couldn't beat Robin Uthappa. More importantly, all this starved Buttler of the strike. Rahane lasted 12 deliveries and in that 15-ball partnership for the second wicket, Buttler faced only three. Not only did Rahane not get going, he also disrupted Buttler's rhythm.

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The pressure - of continuing to step on the gas after a flying start - was telling. Never more so than when Rahane tried an uncharacteristic reverse sweep off Kuldeep Yadav only to be bowled around his legs. Not a pretty way to get out. From 63 for no loss after 4.4 overs, Royals were 79 for 2 after 8. The silent crowd had once again started to roar. 

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A blazing start is best built upon by a batsman who can keep the run-rate from dipping. KKR had done that against Kings XI Punjab when they smashed 245, promoting Andre Russell and Dinesh Karthik up the order after a rollicking opening stand.

Royals themselves had done the same only a fortnight ago, when in 72 balls they smashed 146. They had used Buttler as opener for the first time that evening, and he rewarded Royals by smashing 67 off 26 balls. But what of Rahane himself that evening? In a bid to keep his team's run-rate up, Rahane chose not to bat despite them losing five wickets. Royals might have forced into that move by the situation of that chase, but on Tuesday - when they had a choice - Royals went for the conservative option.

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According to ESPNcricinfo's Smart Stats, Rahane's batting has cost Royals 36 runs this season. That's the fourth-worst among all batsmen. The three batsmen worse than him - Quinton de Kock (-41), Gautam Gambhir (-41) and D'Arcy Short (-39) - no longer feature regularly for their team. It was important to keep the momentum going, force the KKR bowlers into submission, but using Rahane on current form as Royals' No. 3 at that stage was equivalent to axing one's own feet.

When all their momentum fizzled out, Royals' batting unravelled quickly. Buttler's reverse sweep found short third man, Samson was deceived by Narine's guile as he tried to pull, Binny failed to pick a Kuldeep googly to be stumped and Gowtham was too slow to react to a short ball from Mavi. As their fabulous start slipped away, each fell trying to do too much. Suddenly, KKR's bowlers had begun to thrive on momentum very similar to what their opponents had possessed only a handful of overs earlier.

At the end of the game, Rahane said Royals' batsmen cost them by being too adventurous. "I think we didn't apply ourselves in the middle," Rahane said. "It was all about applying yourself, get that partnership going, especially when you get a start like that. You have to back yourself and apply your mind. We lost because of our batting.

"I felt we were too positive with our batting tonight, but that's the way it goes. In T20s, when you play like that, sometimes you get 200-plus and sometimes you get 140-odd."

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Kolkata was way too humid and warm for the Eden Gardens to be full on a Tuesday evening, but the city's schools had already closed for summer break and that meant a large influx of children at the ground. Kids love making noise of course, but the early onslaught from Tripathi and Buttler had kept them quiet. Perhaps that's why Royals' first wicket - Tripathi edging Russell to the wicketkeeper - earned the evening's biggest cheer.

The chase was pretty much chance-less, KKR never gave Royals a look in. The languid pace of proceedings forced some of the children to fall asleep on their parents' laps, while the others found their attention drifting to the applications on their phone.

When Karthik hit the winning runs, it was time to wake up and head home. A family of four - all wide awake - began to make their way out of the ground. The youngest, in a bittersweet manner, said: "Aasche bochor aabar hobe (we'll see them again next season)." The least I could do was remind the kid that his team remains very much in contention to play at the Eden in a week's time, in the Eliminator.

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(Provided by Sportskeeda)


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