When left-arm spinner Ankeet Chavan opened the attack with offie Ajit Chandila against Mumbai Indians on Wednesday,they were to be the fifth new-ball pair that Rajasthan Royals had fielded in as many games. And with the Jaipur franchise on top of the table,this wasnt about an indecisive captain of a struggling side desperate to get the right mix.
Cricket,like most team sports,has always celebrated settled sides and,at times,over-emphasized on the virtues of retaining a winning combination. At Camp Jaipur,by defying this old convention,they seem to be constructing a new T20 template.
These days,there is a thick cloud of suspense around Rahul Dravid as he walks out for the toss with the team sheet. For the Royals rivals,the anxiety isnt over even when the playing XI is announced. Since hidden slyly in batting and bowling orders are pinch-hitters,freak spinners and pacers hurling thunderbolts. By being so thoughtfully unpredictable,Royals have surprised even the most well-planned sides.
In the four games before the Chavan-Chandila combo began on Wednesday,Royals opened proceedings with Samuel Badree (leggie) and S Sreesanth (pace), Sreesanth (pace) and Shaun Tait (super fast),Harmeet Singh (left-arm spin) and Sreesanth (pace),Chandila (off-spin) and Sreesanth (pace).
In their first game at home,KKR were stunned by Taits speed and Sreesanths diligence. Kings XI,meanwhile,faced the mix of pace and spin while Tendulkar and Ponting had to deal with the super slow Chandila and the fastish Chavan.
Even the games stalwarts took time to adjust,terribly out-of-form and unsure of whether to use their feet to hit themselves out of trouble. MI,like other rivals of the Royals,lost early wickets. And yet again,their unconventional opening had removed two important pieces from the board.
By dropping in-form players (Tait,Sanju Samson,Shane Watson) and inspired batting promotions (Dishant Yagnik for Dravid at No.3 against MI) means several pre-game opposition plans have come unstuck.
Dravid,with his fast shuffle of cards,has repeatedly tricked his opponents. Can he continue to fool them all time? Maybe,for he has a few jokers up his sleeve. Chinaman Brad Hogg,pacer Fidel Edwards and big-hitter Owais Shah,all match-winners,are waiting in the wings ready to spring surprises. Crickets chapter about settled sides and retaining winning combinations now needs a post script. If not a rewrite.
(Sandeep is the National Sports Editor based in Delhi)