Ben Stokes' return should bolster Rajasthan, but can they line up right?
The biggest question facing Rajasthan right now is their clumsy middle-order. In their last four games, Rajasthan were 39/3 (vs Kolkata), 31/3 (vs Bangalore), 12/3 (vs Mumbai) and 82/5 (vs Delhi). It has exposed their already soft underbelly and the runs have dried up after the top three. While one or the other top-order batsman or a late lower-order slog has hauled them to respectability each time, Rajasthan know that they need to sort their mess sooner rather than later.
They have had to rejig their batting twice this season - once with Jos Buttler's return and the other time with Robin Uthappa's middle-order experiment going awry. And now that Ben Stokes is set to return, Rajasthan will need further tweaks to their line-up. But have they defined clear roles yet for the players?
The obvious candidate to make way for Stokes is Tom Curran or Andrew Tye. The lower-order England all-rounder has contributed with bat and ball this season so far, but with Stokes returning, Rajasthan can add more batting depth while not compromising much on the bowling front. So where should they begin?
The Sanju factor
Sanju Samson is best known to start well against the new ball and is best used as an opener. Alongside Jos Buttler, Samson's presence will help Rajasthan add flair and panache at the top. The added advantage of this move is that spin against Buttler in powerplay becomes a risky option as Samson can take on the spinners.
Samson is a terrific ball striker but is inconsistent as his returns in this season have shown. While he carted around 16 maximums in Sharjah in two games, in the three matches outside the flat track, Samson hasn't even scored as many as 16 runs. In returning to Sharjah against Delhi, Samson struggled again, possibly short of confidence. A move to the top might just be the boost he needs.
Yashasvi Jaiswal needs time in the team and he can slot below Samson and Buttler.
The Smith - Stokes question
Rajasthan have plenty of top-order batsmen but not a lot of them in the middle overs who can attack the spinners and finish off games. Ben Stokes adds this dimension on paper, even though his T20 record isn't overly impressive.
If Stokes can fit in at No. 5, Steve Smith can come in right above him and the two can add a pinch in the middle overs with their touch and power game respectively. But it's a highly risky move as both take time to settle in and struggle to score as quickly as the team might want them to.
For now, though, Rajasthan have few options left to tackle this.
The Archer - Tewatia finish
The partnerships between Jofra Archer and Rahul Tewatia have been terrific for Rajasthan so far given the rate at which they score. Archer is an underrated T20 batsman and in his incredible hitting in the death this season, he has shown as much.
If Stokes and Smith can be moved down the order should the top-order make a rousing start, it makes sense to promote Tewatia or Archer up the order above them. Promoting Rahul Tewatia over Stokes if the need for quick runs is huge is one way to counter that, but Stokes is indeed the more secure batsman and can potentially take on both spin and pace. It's a risk Rajasthan will have to take if they need to remain flexible.
Similarly, Archer is also a potential pinch-hitter waiting in the wings. He can take on spin and pace alike and is known for his small cameos. If Rajasthan can use him and Tewatia in a floating role and ensure they get 2-3 overs in the middle at least, they might not be left with too much of a headache.
This requires them to be incredibly flexible with their batting order, though. If they do manage to pull it off, Rajasthan might be able to give their season a massive boost.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Dibyangshu Sarkar