Rajasthan Royals love to flick switches midway through the season, when everyone but them see the obvious. Their decision to bat Jos Buttler in the middle order in 2018 had many chuckle in disbelief. In seven innings, he managed just 120 runs at a strike rate of 126.30. When they decided to open with him, Royals had already slumped. But Buttler almost single-handedly steered them to the playoffs by making 428 runs in the next six innings at a strike rate of 165.9.
Now, midway through 2019, they are in another slump, needing to win at least five of the remaining six games to have a shot at making the playoffs. Buttler has opened right through, but he is only going to be around for another five days. They have flicked another switch now out of desperation, trying out options to possibly fill the Buttler void when he leaves. In the previous game, Ajinkya Rahane dropped down the order, and Rahul Tripathi opened, a position where he's had most of his IPL success at, albeit under Steven Smith at Rising Pune Supergiant two years ago.
A question they have to address, though, is about Rahane's position. Can they have him at No. 4, a spot with a complex job description? Especially when their opponents - Mumbai Indians - are trying to find ways to bat Kieron Pollard higher up the order? Currently, he simply can't get enough batting time despite playing the most impactful knock of the tournament till date. Steven Smith, around whom their retention strategy was formalised last year, sat out the last game, and Sanju Samson batted at No. 3. Is that a formula to take forward?
There are many questions, and very few answers, and Royals will need to do something very quickly before mathematical possibilities, too, dry up. The issues with the batting run so deep that the bowling seems to be the least of their worries at the moment. And only time will tell if they're starting to run out of patience with their costliest signing, Jaydev Unadkat, whose five wickets in six games have come at 46.20 and an economy rate of 11.
Mumbai, meanwhile, are cruising. The big concern for them prior to facing Royals is perhaps the lack of rest as they will take the field in a little over 36 hours following their victory over Delhi Capitals. The perennial slow starters have started to roar and look unstoppable at the moment. At this rate, they may even be able to offer Jasprit Bumrah some rest once they enter the safe zone, but for that they need at least two more wins. On form, and on paper, that could come on Saturday.
In the news
For Mumbai, Ishan Kishan will be back in contention after missing Thursday's game because of the flu. Doubts remain over Jason Behrendorff. If he continues to sit out, it could mean more time for Ben Cutting or a re-entry for Mitchell McClenaghan. Ben Stokes is likely to return for Royals after missing the previous game because of an illness.
Buttler's scorching 43-ball 80 against his former franchise helped Royals offset another poor death-bowling show, as they chased down 188 with three balls to spare. Jofra Archer's three-for was their highlight with the ball.
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Jos Buttler, 2 Rahul Tripathi, 3 Sanju Samson (wk), 4 Ajinkya Rahane (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Ashton Turner, 7 Stuart Binny, 8 Jofra Archer, 9 Shreyas Gopal, 10 Jaydev Unadkat, 11 Dhawal Kulkarni
Mumbai Indians: 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Ishan Kishan, 4 Kieron Pollard, 5 Hardik Pandya, 6 Krunal Pandya, 7 Suryakumar Yadav, 8 Rahul Chahar, 9 Jason Behrendorff, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Lasith Malinga
Mumbai's Powerplay run rate is the second-best this season, while they top the chart in the death overs. However, in the middle overs, they have been among the worst. There's definitely a case for Pollard to bat a spot higher, considering he's playing as a pure batsman. This could mean leaving out Suryakumar Yadav or dropping him down the order. Considering they have the Pandya brothers to follow, this may not be a bad call. Note: when Pollard scores fifty, Mumbai win three out of four games.
Three Royals bowlers (Dhawal Kulkarni, Stokes and Unadkat) feature in the top five for bowlers with the poorest economy rates at the death. Can Royals use Archer and Shreyas Gopal, who concedes at just 4.7 in this phase, instead? He is yet to concede a boundary too across 6.1 overs in this period.
Stats that matter
Legspinner Rahul Chahar's dot-ball percentage of 58.3 in the Powerplay is the fourth best in IPL 2019. Archer tops the list with 69.20%. Chahar also has the third-best dot-ball percentage - 46.2% - for all spinners in IPL 2019.
Tripathi has faced fewer dot balls in the first 20 balls than Rahane, and has the fourth-best IPL strike rate since 2017. Rahane, in fact, has a dot-ball percentage of 47.60 for the first ten balls (since 2015), while the corresponding number for Tripathi is 39.70.
The in-form Hardik Pandya needs two more wickets to reach 100 in T20s. He needs just 52 more to clock 2000 T20 runs as well.