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IPL 2014: Should Shane Watson open the innings for Rajasthan Royals?

If Shane Watson moves to the top, it won't make a big difference in the solid Rajasthan Royals middle-order which comprises of Sanju Samson, Stuart Binny, Steve Smith and Rajat Bhatia © IANS
If Shane Watson moves to the top, it won’t make a big difference in the solid Rajasthan Royals middle-order which comprises of Sanju Samson, Stuart Binny, Steve Smith and Rajat Bhatia © IANS

Rajasthan Royals (RR) are currently placed fourth in the points table of the 2014 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). While their bowling has looked very good in three of the four games, their batsmen have struggled to put runs on the board. Shiamak Unwalla looks at the man who could turn things around for the Royals.

 

In the four matches that the Rajasthan Royals have played in IPL 7, they have put up scores of 135 for six, 191 for five, 133 all out and 71 for four. Barring the one match in which they made 191, the rest of the scores have all come while chasing. Therefore, to say that RR have crossed 150 just once in four matches would be misleading. And yet, the numbers do tell a story. This is a team that lost six wickets while getting to 135, a comparatively less daunting total than most. Then they were all out for 133 while chasing 140, which isn’t that much more than 135. And finally, they lost four wickets while chasing a target of 70, which is far less formidable than 135 or 140.

Clearly, the RR batsmen aren’t enjoying themselves. The sample size is still too small to make a statement that RR prefer batting first, but from the evidence of three chases it can be seen that they don’t fancy to chase often. They have certainly made heavy work out of chases that perhaps should not have been this challenging. The one person that stands out in the RR line-up is their captain, Shane Watson.

Watson is clearly among the key batsmen for Rajasthan. He is their captain, and therefore the onus is on him to do well. His scores in the first four matches read 3, 50, 7, and 24. Maybe not as bad as other captains in IPL 7 (Gautam Gambhir comes to mind!), but far from ideal. What is most baffling is that Watson has usually done very well while opening the innings, but in this IPL he is batting at No 4. This has been a trend with Watson for quite some time now.

He has forgone his position as opener, even for Australia, in favour of the No 3 spot, but he has not been nearly as successful. A quick look at his statistics will show that he averages around 45 as opener in One Day Internationals (ODIs), about 41 as opener in Tests, and almost 32 as opener in Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is), all of which is comfortably higher than his average at other positions in which he has batted for a minimum of five innings. He averages around 40 at No 7 in ODIs, but that is mainly because of 11 not outs in 23 innings. It is only in Tests, where he averages nearly 42 at No 3 after 19 innings, that there is not much difference from his position as opener.

Now, these figures may not paint an accurate picture for his exploits in the IPL, but in the current RR side only Ajinkya Rahane looks like a solid opener. Abhishek Nayar has not been able to justify his position as an opener, and in the one match that Karun Nair played, he didn’t inspire a lot of confidence either. With a middle order that reads Sanju Samson, Steven Smith, Brad Hodge, Rajat Bhatia and Stuart Binny, it is unlikely that Watson’s promotion up the order will affect the balance of the side. If anything, it will help lay a sound platform for the power players like Smith and Binny to take full toll at the end.

Rajasthan play their next match against the misfiring Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). This will be their last match of the UAE leg of the IPL, and they will be keen to sign off on a winning note. If Watson opens the innings, the Royals will have a more stable influence at the top, and perhaps that will make them a more intimidating batting line-up.

Click here for IPL 2014 Schedule: Match time table for IPL 7

Click here for IPL 2014 Schedule & Results

Click here for IPL 2014 complete coverage

(Shiamak Unwalla is a reporter with Cricket Country. He is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and Cricket fanatic who likes to pass his free time by reading books, watching TV shows, and eating food. Sometimes all at the same time. You can follow him on twitter at @ShiamakUnwalla)

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