IPL 2023: What’s in store for Samson & co after a Royal meltdown?

The dip in form is something which skipper Samson was hard-pressed to explain after an embarrassing defeat to the Royal Challengers Bangalore at home on Sunday

Sanju Samson (Photo: Twitter/ @IamSanjuSamson)
Sanju Samson (Photo: Twitter/ @IamSanjuSamson)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

How do you feel when after having started the IPL 2023 season in style with five wins from first eight matches, a franchise suddenly finds it’s qualification chance in jeopardy? Or get bowled out for 59 in a crucial game, the third lowest total, in the league’s history?

While stranger things have happened in the cash-rich league before, it’s been nothing short of a Royal meltdown for Sanju Samson’s men. After having a head start in the earlier half of the season when they needed three more wins (six points) to reach the magic figure of 16 points for play-offs, they succumbed to their fourth defeat in last five matches and are now part of a mid-table logjam with 12 points along with three other teams.

The dip in form is something which skipper Samson was hard-pressed to explain after an embarrassing defeat to the Royal Challengers Bangalore at home on Sunday. When asked  what exactly has changed in the past two weeks, Samson replied: “That is a great question actually. I was thinking about it while sitting in the dugout seeing the batting collapse and where it went wrong. Sorry, I do not have an answer to be very honest. I am just thinking through it."

An answer which did not go down well with the Royals fans, whose expectations naturally soared after their runners-up finish last year. They now have to win their last game, an away one against the Punjab Kings on Friday, and keep an eye on the results of other teams in order to make the cut for two years in a row.

Putting up a brave face, Samson looked ahead: “We all know the nature of the IPL, we’ve seen some funny things happen in the league stage. We have to keep strong, take a day off and think about the game in Dharamshala.”

A closer look at the Royals performance reveals that they have a batter and bowler in the top three in the race for the Orange Caps and the Purple Caps, respectively. Yashasvi Jaiswal, whose ability to convert the starts to big scores paid him handsome dividends this year (575 runs) and senior leggie Yuzvendra Chahal (21 wickets) are currently occupying second spots in respective lists while Jos Buttler and Ravi Ashwin are 10th in them.

However, a trick which team boss Kumar Sangakkara & co may have missed in assembling their batting order during these two seasons is that it had been overtly reliant on the top three of Buttler, Jaiswal and Samson. The England star, with his Herculean aggregate of 863 runs last year, had almost singlehandedly propelled the Royals to the play-offs but had been relatively quiet this time around. 

The day there is a collective failure of the top three, like on Sunday when both the openers fell for ducks and Samson fell cheaply due to a poor shot selection, there had been a noticeable lack of meaningful partnerships in the middle order. The likes of Devdutt Padikkal, Dhruv Jurel or an under-achieving Riyan Parag failed to take the responsibility on a regular basis - with the onus lying on West Indian Shimron Hetmyer to provide the late charge.

With the benefit of hindsight, one wondered whether it would have made more sense to try out Joe Root at number four much earlier in the season at the expense of an overseas bowler.  

However, it’s all a question of ifs and buts as the fortunes of the Royals hinges on the final week of high stakes league games – much like so many others! 

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