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When Shaun Tait began his run-up for the first time in the season,a number of anxious eyes would have followed the 64 South Australians shuffling progress to the bowling crease. After four defeats on the bounce,Rajasthan Royals were in a position of strength,having posted 177 and dismissed Kings XI Punjabs then top run-getter Mandeep Singh cheaply. In Tait,Rajasthan possessed someone who could either win them the match or hand the initiative to their opponents in the course of the next few deliveries.
As a T20 specialist,Tait came into the game without any of the rhythm that most fast men build up over a season with regular bowling in multiple formats. Also,he was coming off an elbow injury.
Taits first ball was full and fast and swung late,starting on the line of Shaun Marshs off stump and snaking towards the base of middle stump. The left-handed opener just about kept it out,jabbing down hard on the ball. Taits teammates may well have exhaled collectively.
As it happened,Tait bowled well,which is to say that his low-slung missiles stayed on a trajectory more or less in sync with his mental radar,often enough for his figures to read 4-0-18-2,even if he sent down four wides in four overs.
Numbers can often paint an incomplete picture of a cricketers worth. But in Taits case,they tell you the whole story. In 13 IPL matches in two and a half seasons a statistic that reveals how injury-prone he is Tait has an economy rate of 8.18 and a strike rate of 16.6,the eighth best among bowlers who have sent down a minimum of 250 deliveries.
Shane Watson,meanwhile,is seventh on the list of the highest strike rates in IPL history,with his runs coming at 146.44. Earlier that evening at Mohali,he had walked in at number three and scored 36 in 17 balls,smacking the ball with fearsome power. Having done his bit with the bat,he then came on and took two for 22 in his four overs. With Tait and Watson firing,Rajasthan won handsomely.
At the start of the season,Rajasthan would have said yes if someone had offered them 10 points with five matches remaining,with Tait and Watson fit and available. This is the position they now occupy. They will probably need to win four out of five matches to be sure of a playoff spot,but they now have personnel capable of achieving that.
With the arrivals of Watson and Tait,in fact,Rajasthan can no longer maintain the facade of being just a tight-knit collection of value-for-money players punching above their weight. They now possess the one quantity that they had missed so far,in a pair of players capable of winning matches on their own.
Selection headaches will assail Rahul Dravid in a way they havent so far. All of his other foreign players have played regularly. Now,with guaranteed starters Watson and Tait,Dravid will need to draw on all his wisdom to manage egos ahead of every match.
He might have found it a little difficult to tell Owais Shah 280 runs in 10 innings at a strike rate of 145.07 and Brad Hogg 10 wickets in eight matches with an economy rate of 6.96 - to sit out at Mohali. These were players who had done no wrong till then.
But that has been the story of Rajasthans season none of their foreign players have underperformed. If anything,it has been the likes of Ashok Menaria (10 out of 11 games),Shreevats Goswami (9),Amit Singh (9) and Ankeet Chavan (7) who have failed to justify their regular inclusion. Even so,Dravid cannot do anything about the foreign player quota. He can only play four at a time. How he rotates them could dictate whether Rajasthan make the playoffs or not.
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