The Indian Premier League (IPL) 2023 is heading towards its climax, with only two playoff spots left to be decided. Two teams that are still in contention, but barely hanging on, are Punjab Kings and Rajasthan Royals. Both teams have 12 points from 13 matches and are placed fifth and sixth respectively on the points table. They will face each other in a must-win encounter at Dharamsala on Thursday.
However, even a win here may not be enough for either side to make it to the top four. They will also need other results to go their way, such as Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians losing their remaining matches. The net run rate will also play a crucial role in determining the final standings.
Both Kings and Royals have had a roller-coaster season, with some highs and lows. They have also made some questionable tactical decisions that have cost them crucial points. Here are some of the areas where they need to improve if they want to stay alive in the tournament.
- Use Harpreet Brar wisely: The left-arm spinner has been a revelation for the Kings this season, picking up 14 wickets at an economy of 6.85. He has also shown his ability with the bat, scoring 97 runs at a strike rate of 161.66. However, he has been used inconsistently by captain Shikhar Dhawan. In some matches, he has not bowled at all, while in others he has been given the responsibility of bowling at the death against set batsmen. Brar is best suited to bowl in the middle overs, where he can exploit the spin-friendly conditions and keep the run rate in check.
- Retire out Atharva Taide early: The young opener has been given a long rope by Kings, but he has failed to justify his selection. He has scored only 156 runs in nine innings at a strike rate of 108.33. He has also struggled to rotate the strike and put pressure on the bowlers. In a high-scoring chase against Delhi Capitals on Wednesday, he consumed 31 balls for his 28 runs, leaving too much for the middle order to do. Kings have other options in Jitesh Sharma, Sam Curran, and M Shahrukh Khan who can provide more impetus at the top.
- Give Nathan Ellis more overs: The Australian fast bowler has been impressive in his debut IPL season, taking nine wickets at an economy of 7.66. He has also shown his skills at the death, bowling yorkers, and slower balls with accuracy. However, he has often been under-bowled by Dhawan, who has preferred to use Rahul Chahar and Harpreet Brar in the final overs. Ellis should be given more responsibility and trust by his captain, especially when the conditions are favorable for seam bowling.
- Utilize Jason Holder’s batting skills: The West Indian allrounder is one of the most valuable players in T20 cricket, with his ability to contribute with both bat and ball. However, the Royals have not used him effectively this season. He has batted only four times in nine matches, scoring 62 runs at a strike rate of 177.14. He has also faced only 35 balls in total, which is a waste of his talent and power. The royals should promote him up the order and give him more opportunities to score big runs.
Play Obed McCoy regularly:
The left-arm seamer from St Lucia has been a revelation for Royals this season, taking 15 wickets at an economy of 7.00. He has also been their best bowler at the death, with his variations and yorkers causing problems for the batsmen. However, he has been inexplicably dropped or underused by captain Sanju Samson in some matches. For instance, he was benched against Sunrisers Hyderabad despite being fit and available. He was also given only one over against Royal Challengers Bangalore in a high-scoring game. McCoy should be an automatic pick for the Royals and should be given more overs to showcase his skills.
Open with Jos Buttler:
The England star is one of the best T20 batsmen in the world, but he has not been able to fire consistently for the Royals this season. He has scored only 264 runs in 13 innings at a strike rate of 132. He has also batted at different positions, from No.3 to No.6, which may have affected his rhythm and confidence. The royals should stick with him as an opener and give him the license to attack from the start. He can form a formidable partnership with Yashasvi Jaiswal at the top and set up big totals for his team.