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IPL 2024

Why promoting a tailender with 62 T20 career runs to open almost cost Rajasthan a win

Tanush Kotian, who has never batted above No.8 in T20s, made 24 in 31 after he was asked to open for Rajasthan Royals
Sarah Waris by Sarah Waris
@swaris16 4 minute read

Tanush Kotian, who has never batted above No.8 in T20s, made 24 off 31 balls after he was asked to open for Rajasthan Royals against Punjab Kings in the 2024 IPL on Saturday (April 13), a move that almost cost them the game.

Kotian made his IPL debut in Mullanpur after skipper Sanju Samson confirmed off-spinner R Ashwin would be missing the game due to a niggle. Rajasthan were also without opener Jos Buttler for the clash, with Samson saying he was not “100 percent”. He was replaced by Rovman Powell in the XI.

Rajasthan, who opted to bowl after winning the toss, had an incredible first innings, restricting Punjab to 147-8. In the second innings, they subbed in Yashasvi Jaiswal, who is the usual opener in the side, but there were question marks over who the other opener could be in the absence of Buttler. One choice was Samson, who has prior experience of opening in T20s. However, he has not batted up the order since 2019. With stiff ongoing competition for the India middle-order wicketkeeper spot ahead of the T20 World Cup as well, it was unlikely that Samson, who is in the race, would push himself up to open.

What followed was unexpected: Rajasthan asked debutant Kotian, who had 62 runs in his T20 career before the game, to face the new ball against an attack that had Kagiso Rabada, Sam Curran and Arshdeep Singh. The 25-year-old from Mumbai is primarily an off-spinner. He had played 23 T20s before the match against Punjab and batted in only nine innings, averaging 20.66. He was not a renowned big hitter either, striking at 114.81 with four fours and two sixes. In nine innings, he had crossed 10 just once, when he made 28 in 26 balls against Railways in 2022.

It is not that Kotian cannot bat, however. He has a first-class high score of 120* along with 11 fifties and averages 42.66. In this year’s Ranji Trophy semi-final, Kotian, batting at No.10 against Tamil Nadu, scored an unbeaten 89, rescuing his side from 211-8 to 378. But doing well with the bat in red-ball cricket is not the same as in T20s, where the skill-set needed is vastly different.

With the ball, he had picked up 24 T20 wickets at an average of 20.04 but did not bowl against Punjab Kings.

Why did Kotian open for Rajasthan Royals?

If there was a match where Rajasthan could experiment, it was this, against an inconsistent Punjab team that had been reduced to a paltry target. However, by the final stages of the match, Rajasthan may have started to regret the move.

The need for experimentation arose as Rajasthan desperately seek an all-rounder who could slot in the XI. Currently, Rajasthan have recognised batters until No.7 (with the Impact Player), followed by Ashwin (when fit). No batter in the top seven regularly bowls his full quota of four overs, while the bowlers (after Ashwin) rarely contribute with the bat.

Ashwin has also not clicked as a batter in the last two seasons. After striking at 141.48 in 2022, Ashwin could only score 67 runs in 13 games last year and has struck at 128.57 this season. His waning skills with the bat mean additional pressure on the top seven and though the batters have played their part thus far, they could be left reeling in case of a collapse. Rajasthan are also one of the few teams in the tournament without a proper all-rounder and the side might have been looking at him as a candidate to fill in that role in specific situations, which could explain the Kotian move.

Following the game, Sanju Samson said that the decision to put Kotian in as an opener was not to unsettle the batting lineup. “He is a very interesting youngster,” said Samson. “He came in as an all-rounder. Had a fabulous Ranji Trophy season. He has been impressing everyone in the nets. We had a proper settled batting order, so we did not want to unsettle it.”

But the tactic almost cost them the game. Kotian took up 31 balls for his 24, hitting three fours at a strike rate of 77.42, leaving Rajasthan to play catch-up for the remainder of the game on a slow wicket. In an innings where the required run rate was 7.45, Kotian went at 4.71 runs an over, massively increasing the pressure on the other batters. Rajasthan never completely recovered from their slow start, needing 33 off 16 at one stage and were in danger of losing two points but for a 10-ball 27* from Shimron Hetmyer which saw them chase the target down with one ball to spare.

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