Cricket news - Uthappa the rare silver lining amidst RR's gloom

Robin Uthappa gave RR a flying start with a 22-ball 41

Robin Uthappa gave RR a flying start with a 22-ball 41

There was an air of surprise when Robin Uthappa walked out with Ben Stokes to open the innings against the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Rajasthan Royals' shilly-shallying through the tournament was glaring with as many as five different opening combinations trialled in nine matches. Neither of those pairs clicked, failing to see out even the first three overs of the innings.

You could see stark constrast in RR's opponents - the Royal Challengers Bangalore. They have had a 20-year-old Devdutt Padikkal starring at the top consistently, while opening with India's U-19 World Cup star Yashasvi Jaiswal hasn't worked out for the Royals, more so because he was dropped after just one game. He has one of the first casualties after a defeat, and has had only one outing of note - in the defeat against DC.

Buttler has had starts, but failed to convert them. Sanju Samson and Steve Smith had a string of low scores, putting pressure on the middle-order, which succumbed to it more often than overcome it. All of these unfavorable starts led RR to go for a left-field decision - of promoting Ben Stokes to open the innings.

After a smashing start in Sharjah, RR have slipped into a tricky situation. Should Kings XI Punjab beat Mumbai Indians on Sunday (October 18), RR could slip below them at eighth spot owing to their inferior NRR. What's worse is that they find themselves in this situation because of squandering a game that was theirs for the taking against RCB.

They need a quick reboot from hereon, and thus have a silver-lining from Saturday's game to take forward. On Saturday (October 17), it was the first time all season that the Royals' opening pair added a 50-run stand. Interestingly, it wasn't the punt - of playing Stokes at the top - that facilitated this onslaught, but Uthappa, who came into his own in a batting position very familiar to him.

Uthappa was biding his time in the middle-order; he had his opportunities too, given RR's top-order collapses since their first two games in Sharjah. He was gradually dropped after a lean run, but made his way back into the XI for his experience.

But only once he was promoted to the opening slot did he rekindle memories of his old self.

It was a tactical move from RR to send an aggressive right-hander to negate Washington Sundar, and he attacked him in the powerplay, hitting him for four fours in his second over. Shuffling a tad bit outside off, he swept against Sundar's lengths behind square and over deep mid-wicket with majority of his 32 runs off 16 balls in the powerplay coming on the on-side. He also did well to clear the infield against pace, giving RR a strong start with 50 on the board in the sixth over.

As an opener in 71 innings, Uthappa has 1944 runs, averaging 28.17 striking at 128.83. In the middle order, his numbers are quite similar, with 2550 runs in 105 innings, averaging 28.33 and striking at 130.43. In 2014, he started in the middle order for Kolkata Knight Riders, but once Jacques Kallis dropped himself, Uthappa was promoted up the order. There he hit ten consecutive 40-plus scores to finish with the Orange Cap, and never looked back.

"It's been a while, I really enjoyed it (opening the innings)," said Uthappa after RR got to 177 in their 20 overs. "I wanted to give a good start to the team. Going hard at the top was important, the pitch became slower and slower as the innings progressed. We were losing a lot of wickets at the top of the order, couldn't get a start. We needed to plug that, get partnerships going (talking about the change in the batting order)."

What Uthappa's move to the top also did was bolster RR's middle-order with Smith coming in a little later than he usually does, and Buttler, who has been the team's opener since last season. With a solid base to work on, the pair successfully rebuilt the innings with a 58-run stand. The start - provided largely by Uthappa - also gave Smith the time to ease into his innings, which worked well for the skipper. He gradually began to time the ball well and used his feel smartly against the spinners.

"We wanted more experience in the middle with Jos," Smith said after the game. "We all know Jos is an amazing opener, but he also is one of the best at the back-end just to give us a bit more balance to the side. Robbie has done a fair bit of opening and I thought he played particularly well this afternoon as well. I was disappointed he didn't go on, but he got the team off to a good start."

That said, even though this batting order worked for Rajasthan today, Buttler is better-suited at the top, with Stokes coming in at No.5 instead. RR, perhaps, opted to give Stokes a run at the top for him to start strongly against pace, with his struggles against spin in the middle. The same for Buttler, who has an enviable record as an opener - in 31 innings as an opener in the IPL, he averages 40.66, striking at 157.41. In other positions, his average drops to 22.06 in 21 innings, as does his striking rate to 134.41.

Smith, though, wasn't entirely sure this will be the order they persist with in the remainder of their games that have all turned into must-win games here on. "Different oppositions and different wickets will perhaps vary the order. We'll sum that up as we come to each game, but I was quite happy with the order today," Smith said.