Rajasthan Royals captain Sanju Samson plays a shot during the Indian Premier League match. Rajasthan’s early success has given way to a string of losses in the league phase. Image Credit: AFP

Is Rajasthan Royals’ pursuit of a last-four IPL slot in jeopardy? They have 16 points from 12 matches, the same number of points they had from the first nine matches. Rajasthan lost four games, including the last three, which doesn’t bode well for the team that won eight of their first nine.

Rajasthan, who did the early frontrunning, can seek comfort from the fact that two losses came off the last ball, but a three-game losing streak is indeed a cause for worry. Because it’s difficult to pull out of a downward spiral.

Rajasthan’s task is simple. They have to snap the losing trend if they have to harbour ambitions of winning their second IPL title. A place in the eliminators is not at risk since 16 points should be enough to guarantee unless a bizarre set of results occurs.

Why Rajasthan have to start winning again

Qualification will be on their minds as chief coach Kumar Sangakkara plots wins in home matches against the Punjab Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders. A win is enough to seal a berth with a top-two finish. But skipper Sanju Samson and Sangakkara will want to win both games since Rajasthan can go into the playoffs in a better frame of mind.

That’s important because winning is a habit. Wins bolster confidence and help keep teams motivated. Rajasthan will need that to shed their lethargy of the past, although they came close in 2022 only to lose the final to Gujarat Titans.

Rajasthan have the best attack in the IPL this year. Trent Boult’s left-arm swing creates early inroads for spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal to apply the squeeze in the middle overs. Sandeep Sharma has been good upfront and in the slog overs. Despite the bowling strength, Rajasthan have conceded more than 200 runs on several occasions because the bowlers haven’t always been at their best. And that must be a cause for concern.

Jos Buttler
Jos Buttler, who scored 359 runs including two hundreds, have left the Rajasthan Royals’ camp to join the England team.

More than that, the chinks in the batting must be a source of unease. The opening pair of Yashasvi Jaiswal and Jos Buttler have been misfiring, which has been a feature of their losses. Buttler, who scored 359 runs including two centuries, have left the camp to join the England team, and that will hurt Rajasthan. Samson and Riyag Parag have been relatively consistent, but the same cannot be said of the late middle-order. Dhruv Jurel, no doubt, is an exciting prospect, but barring one knock, he hasn’t set the IPL on fire. Rajasthan will need runs from him as they make a run for the playoffs.

West Indians Shimron Hetmyer and Rovman Powell are tasked with heavy hitting late in the innings. They have been doing just that, and Hetmyer steered them home in one match, but that isn’t enough. One must stay till the end to deliver the winning runs. That hasn’t happened as often as Rajasthan would have wanted.

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There are several issues, and they don’t look like champions. Rajasthan did start strongly, but their campaign hasn’t been smooth.

There’s still time to piece their act together. But IPL is a cauldron of high competition. Right now, at least five teams can win the title, including five-time champions Chennai Super Kings. Don’t rule out CSK; they can still win their sixth. More so since the final will be at Chepauk.

The contest takes a different hue when the cup comes into view. Silly errors creep into the game, and teams fluff their lines all too easily in knockout games. And there’s no room for comebacks. It’s happened to Rajasthan in 2022. Will there be a repeat? The dip in form is not inspiring, but they have the team to do it.