How Can Rajasthan Royals Cover For Stokes and Archer’s Absence?
What can Rajasthan Royals do to fill the void left by Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes?
Rajasthan Royals finished with the wooden spoon last IPL season but they looked prime for success in IPL 2021, considering the way they went about their business in the auction, ahead of this season.
However, they have been dealt with two big blows, as Ben Stokes has been ruled out of the remainder of the season with a finger injury and Jofra Archer's participation in this season is still under cloud as he is recovering from the hand surgery he underwent a few days back.
Stokes played in Rajasthan Royals' season opener against Punjab Kings on Monday (12 April) and it was while attempting Chris Gayle's catch off Riyan Parag's bowling that he ended up injuring a finger on his left-hand.
The English all-rounder still went on to open the innings but he was dismissed for a duck after facing three deliveries.
Scans later revealed that Stokes had sustained a broken finger and that ruled him out for the rest of the tournament.
Stokes' unavailability now is a massive blow to the Royals' considering that they are already missing the services of their ace English pacer, Jofra Archer.
Archer is also nursing a hand injury that he aggravated during England's tour of India last month. He has already undergone a surgery and resumed light training. But it's still not certain whether he will be able to recover in time to participate in the latter half of the season for the Royals. Even if he does, the decision will be with ECB and Archer whether they would want to take a chance with his participation, considering the important international fixtures ahead.
The 26-year-old has been the highest wicket-taker for the Royals ever since he joined the franchise in 2018. Archer has 46 wickets to his name in these three seasons at an excellent average and economy rate of 21.32 and 7.13 to his name.
In fact, he has been the best new-ball bowler in the IPL in the last two editions. His economy rate of 5.35 and average of 17.94 is the best among bowlers who have bowled at least 20 overs inside the powerplay (overs 1-6) since 2018. He has also been an equally important asset for them in the death overs (17-20) as he has recorded 19 wickets in this phase at an economy rate of 9.22 and strike-rate of 15.32. These numbers tell us why it's not going to be easy for the Royals to fill his shoes.
Need to Use Andrew Tye and Mustafizur Rahman Judiciously
RR does have the experience of international bowlers like Andrew Tye and Mustafizur Rahman in their ranks. While they may not come close to matching Archer's ability as a bowler, their judicious use can help the team in getting good results out of them.
Mustafizur wasn't at his best in their tournament opener against Punjab Kings. He leaked runs at a rate of over 10 per over and didn't succeed in picking any wicket as well. However, the conditions at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai do not go well with his strengths. The Royals play four more matches at this venue and they should consider bringing in Andrew Tye for these four games. Tye being an Australian is accustomed to bowling on batting-friendly tracks and is someone who can hit the deck hard as well.
While he hasn't got enough game time in the last couple of seasons, he was seen in pretty good form in the Big Bash League and T20I series between India and Australia that concluded last year.
Moreover, the Royals play 10 out of their 14 League games in Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru combined, and Tye’s combined IPL bowling record at these three venues – 13 wickets at an economy rate of 6.50 and strike-rate of 11.1 – inspires a lot of confidence.
Mustafizur, on the other hand, could come very handy on the slow surfaces on offer in Delhi. RR will play four games at that venue and the Bangladeshi international can wreak havoc with his cutters and change of pace. There will be much more grip on offer on the surface in Delhi as compared to Mumbai and that's why those conditions suit Mustafizur more than Tye.
So Rajasthan needs to be smart with the way they use these two bowlers.
How Big an Issue is Ben Stokes' Unavailability?
Ben Stokes' record in the first two seasons (2018 and 2019) with the Royals – 319 runs at 17.72 and 14 wickets at 35.14 – was actually quite underwhelming. It was almost equal to what he had recorded with Rising Pune Supergiant (316 runs and 12 wickets) in one season.
But his poor performance in those two seasons was mainly due to his underutilisation as a batsman. Stokes was given more of a middle-order role and that didn't suit his strengths as a batsman. The Royals rectified their mistake last season and got the best out of him when they promoted him to open the innings. Stokes went onto amass 285 runs in eight innings as an opener and that too at an excellent average of 40.71 and an equally good strike-rate of 142.50. That included a match-winning century against Mumbai Indians as well.
Now a full season at the top of the order this time was only going to do further damage to RR's opponents and enhance their chances of making it to the playoffs. But Stokes' injury and his subsequent unavailability for the remainder of the season doesn't make things easy for RR.
However, they probably have less reasons to worry regarding Stokes' unavailability as compared to Archer's. That's because they have an equally good top-order replacement in Liam Livingstone and if they want to be a bit more brave, they can choose to go with a left-field option in David Miller as well. Jos Buttler back to the top is another option they can ponder about but his best place will be in the middle-order itself, considering their relatively inexperienced lower middle-order.
How Good is Liam Livingstone?
The English batsman has remained pretty much underused by the Royals. He has played only four IPL games till now – all of which came in the 2019 edition – in which he amassed 71 runs at a strike-rate of 147.91. However, he has established himself as one of the best top-order batsmen in T20s in the last couple of years.
His record in the T20 Blast and Big Bash League show how good a batsman he is.
The table above shows how intentful he has been as a top-order batsman in the span of the last two years. He has crossed the 50-run mark 11 times out of the 46 innings he has batted at the top of the order. That's a fifty every four innings, which is pretty good for a top-order batsman in T20s. Moreover, his strike-rate has been above 140 regularly in all these leagues as well and that gives an idea about his consistency as a swift scorer.
The Royals play 10 out of their 14 games in the batting friendly conditions of Mumbai and Kolkata, and Livingstone can really make an impact on the team's fortunes with his range and power at the top.
David Miller as Opener Instead of Livingstone?
Miller dominated the IPL for three consecutive seasons since 2014. But his stocks have taken a hit since 2017 as his weakness against spin was found out. Moreover, he needs time at the crease to settle down before going berserk and the lack of that time in the past few seasons hasn't helped his cause at all.
Stokes had almost the same issue and his elevation to the top of the order worked wonders last season. Something similar can happen with Miller too, if the Royals are brave enough to try that. He is someone who can use the powerplay field restrictions to good effect owing to his range and power. Although he has opened just once in his T20 career spanning 326 matches, he has been in good form of late.
Miller amassed 116 runs in the recently concluded T20I series against Pakistan, at an outstanding average of 116 and strike-rate of 156.76. He was equally good in South Africa’s domestic T20 competition prior to that also, as he amassed 158 runs in six innings at 52.67.
However, the Royals should take the safer route and go with a proven opener like Livingstone as they are already dealing with the absence of two of their Premier overseas players. Miller's move to the top has a fifty-fifty chance of working out but a cent percent assurance in Livingstone is what they would probably want considering the tough situation they are in right now.
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