Rajasthan Royals skipper Sanju Samson did not think twice before opting to bowl after winning the toss against Shikhar Dhawan’s Punjab Kings in Guwahati on Wednesday.
The idea was simple - with dew expected to settle in, defending a total would be a tough ask for Dhawan’s side.
But what Samson and the Royals think-tank failed to foresee was an early onset of dew, resulting in their bowlers going for plenty. Even the usually reliable Trent Boult and Yuzvendra Chahal were taken to the cleaners by the Kings’ batters.
Samson admitted in the post-match press conference that the early dew took them by surprise.
Punjab’s bowlers though kept striking vital blows throughout the Royals’ chase, despite bowling in tougher conditions, with captain Dhawan marshalling his troops admirably.
“There were some nervous moments, but we kept our calm. There was a lot of dew, but the bowlers bowled well and bowled very good yorkers,” Dhawan said after the game.
The 38-year-old opener has been a reluctant captaincy choice for IPL teams, despite the staggering amount of runs he has scored (second most in IPL behind Virat Kohli) and the boundless experience he possesses, having played in the tournament right from its inception.
The left-handed batter’s first captaincy stint came in 2014 with Sunrisers Hyderabad, which lasted just ten games. He had to wait eight more years to don the captain’s hat when he took over from an injured Mayank Agarwal for the Kings, incidentally against Sunrisers.
Finally, when Kings decided to let go of Agarwal ahead of the 2023 season, Dhawan was appointed skipper, close to 10 years after his first shot.
Kings have started this season on the right foot, with its batting successfully implementing its attacking intent. While against Kolkata Knight Riders, it was Sri Lankan batter Bhanuka Rajapaksa who was the primary aggressor, at Guwahati, it was opener Prabhsimran Singh who took the initiative.
While Prabhsimran went after the Royals’ bowlers, Dhawan bided his time and handed the strike to his opening partner as Kings set itself up for a big total.
After Prabhsimran’s departure, Dhawan upped the ante by bringing out his repertoire of scoops and flicks. The pick of the lot was a reverse flick – a new addition to his array of shots – off Jason Holder over backward point for six.
“When Prabhsimran was going so well, Dhawan knew he could take his time. That is where experience comes into play. Once Prabhsimran fell, he batted through the innings, picking up his strike rate in the second half. We want one of our top three to bat till the 18th or 19th,” said Wasim Jaffer, Punjab Kings’ batting coach.
At one point in the innings, Dhawan was on 30 off 30 balls -- not an ideal position to be in as an opener. But he made his patient start count, with some inventive shots towards the end and then with his composed captaincy helped his side to a second win on the bounce.
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