Agent of destruction: Jos Buttler’s first IPL hundred shows up Sunrisers’ muddled thinking

The Rajasthan Royals, driven by a first IPL century by Jos Buttler, dismantled the Sunrisers Hyderabad in the opening game of the Sunday double-header, winning by 55 runs, but exposing critical fissures in the Sunrisers camp which may not be healed this IPL season.

In a strategic move to add an overseas bowler, the responsibility of opening and captaincy was removed from David Warner. The effort from his colleagues, though, was so short of the required standard that the deposed captain surely won’t feel that any good came from this change.

Their new captain, Kane Williamson, chose to field, and evidence of new thinking occurred as early as the third over, with the use of Rashid Khan’s leg spin. Although more expensive than usual, Khan’s magic brought about an easy lbw decision to remove Jaiswal.

A lost review in the first of Rashid’s overs – against Jaiswal – would have been useful in his next over as Chris Gaffney managed to incorrectly give Buttler not out lbw when he tried a reverse sweep. The decision, and the inability to appeal, would cost Hyderabad dearly.

By the end of the powerplay, the game was delicately poised, on a score of 42 for one, but two overs of Khan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar had been used. Where would the restrictive middle-over bowling come from?

The momentum of the Royals innings initially came from Sanju Samson, with a strike rate approaching 200, as Buttler’s hovered at around 100. The middle-order failures of the Royals in previous games seemed to be inhibiting the England wicketkeeper, who wanted to be aggressive while not giving his wicket away. He nearly perished for a second time, but was dropped in the deep by Vijay Shankar.

Shankar did not cover himself in glory with his first over with the ball, either, conceding 18 runs, but Rajasthan couldn’t really get away, a score of 77 for one at the halfway stage indicating a game in the balance.

Rashid had taken Buttler’s wicket four times in five games, and Williamson’s gambit was to use the world-class spinner’s overs up early to get that wicket. He was bowled out by the 11th over, but Buttler remained, and in the end, this proved to be the difference.

As the Sunrisers had to turn to Khaleel Ahmed and Sandeep Sharma to restrain the scoring, so Buttler went on the attack, moving to his half-century off 40 deliveries. It was becoming clear that the strategic thinking of the Sunrisers was muddled.

The bowler who had been brought in to replace Warner was off spinner Mohammad Nabi, and he was not introduced until the 15th over. Maybe Williamson was waiting for a wicket to bring a left-hander to the crease. But why wait until a point where his full allocation could no longer be used? That Nabi’s one over went for 21 runs only compounded the situation.

Whatever the Sunrisers’ failings, it must not, however, be allowed to take away from the destructiveness of Buttler. The statistics do not really do his innings justice. He faced a total of 64 balls for his 124 runs, but the last 27 produced the bulk: 82. That’s a strike rate of 303. He hit 11 fours and eight sixes.

It was arguably the finest knock of this IPL season – if only because few people would want to argue with Keiron Pollard if he staked his claim for his blitzkrieg against CSK a night earlier, while Samson might like to point to his 119 in Rajasthan’s chase against Punjab in only the fourth match.

Sampson departed for 48, and Buttler’s innings was brought to an end by playing on with the last ball of the 19th over, as Rajasthan powered to a total of 220. An imposing innings for a select XI to try and chase down, but for a team that has already failed to chase much smaller totals a number of times this year, it was Mission Impossible.

Opening in place of Warner was Manish Pandey and, with Jonny Bairstow, the Sunrisers made a decent start in the powerplay, moving to 57 without loss. But with attempts to keep up with the run-rate came the inevitable loss of wickets, with first Pandey and then Bairstow falling just after they had got into the 30s. Bairstow was caught well on the boundary by Anuj Rawat, who took three catches on his debut.

An indication of Rajasthan’s late innings acceleration was that in the 13th over the Hyderabad score of 105 for three was only three runs behind their opponents at the same stage. But in that over, Williamson was caught in the deep by Chris Morris off the medium-fast of Kyati Tyagi, and with that, the will and application of the Sunrisers’ batsmen seemed to sag terminally.

Mustafizur Rahman and Morris were the pick of the bowlers with three wickets apiece, but the manner of the victory was much greater than the 55 runs would suggest.

If the Royals can fire in all phases, then maybe they remain an outside bet for the fourth play-off place. But the hugs of the Sunrisers’ players of Warner at the game’s conclusion seemed telling. They seem a team lost at sea, bereft of direction, and there appears no rescue on the horizon.

Punjab Kings were without their captain, too, in their seven-wicket defeat by Delhi Capitals in Ahmedabad but for quite different reasons: KL Rahul had been taken for surgery for acute appendicitis, leaving Mayank Agarwal, his fellow opener, to take on the mantle of leadership. It was a role he took on marvellously as his unbeaten 99 from 58 balls – batting all the way through – boosted an otherwise scratchy performance from his team as they got to an unlikely 166 for six.

He hit two fours and a six from the final three balls of the last over, bowled by the otherwise impressive Avesh Khan and joined Chris Gayle and Suresh Raina as the only IPL players to have remained not out one run short of three figures.

Shikhar Dhawan made light work of the chase, hitting a third fifty in this year’s tournament – 69 off 47 balls – as Delhi got over the line with 14 balls to spare. The one bright spot for the Kings was the sight of Harpreet Brar, who dismissed Virat Kohli, Glenn Maxwell and AB de Villiers against RCB, turning his first ball past Prithvi Shaw’s forward push to bowl him. Shaw had looked in great form but he was outfoxed by the left-arm spinner, who finished with one for 19 – the only surprise that he didn’t get a fourth over.

Punjab had prised Dawid Malan, allegedly the world’s finest T20 international batsman, off the bench he’s been warming for seven matches but he failed to set the game alight with a run-a-ball 26 on a pitch on which the ball was stopping. That said, the expectations bar for a man playing his first IPL match – and getting in with only four balls of the powerplay remaining – seemed to have been set ridiculously high by the television commentary team of Kevin Pietersen and Simon Doull, who mindlessly chuntered about his shortcomings throughout his knock.

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