If a book were to be written on Rajasthan Royals’ peregrination through this cycle of the Indian Premier League spanning 13 years, ‘A tale of two extremes’ could be an apt title. The underdogs in the maiden season in 2008 began their voyage with a title win. They’ve finished seven times in bottom-half of the table since, only making the play-offs a mere three times; and never another final. It only exacerbated in 2020, when they finished with the wooden spoon.
It was quite symbolic of their narrative last season, having had lit up Sharjah with two exceptional wins to kickstart their campaign. It evoked the feeling of “maybe this year could be it”, but soon tailed away into another one of nihility.
If the transience in their line-up was an issue last year, this year they’ll be led by a new captain. Steve Smith replaced Ajinkya Rahane midway through 2019, and he led the side in 2020 before being replaced Sanju Samson for this upcoming season. They also acquired the services of all-rounder Chris Morris, shelling out the most amount for a player in the history of IPL auctions.
Will it be another season of seeking answers? The Royals will hope the change in leadership – with Kumar Sangakkara also coming in as director of cricket – brings about a change in fortunes, coming full circle.
Where have they finished in this cycle?
2018: 4th || 2019: 7th || 2020: 8th
Last season bugbear
The transience in the batting order was an issue that plagued them throughout the previous season. They went through as many as five opening pairs before settling on Robin Uthappa and Ben Stokes at the top in the latter half of the season. Smith and Samson made brilliant starts but faded away with time, putting excessive pressure on the middle order. Jofra Archer was a standout not just for RR, but in the tournament as a whole, being named MVP. Yet, the lack of any substantial support from the Indian contingent of pacers hurt them.
Has it been fixed ahead of IPL 2021?
Yes, and no. They will miss Jofra Archer for the start of the tournament given a finger injury, while Mustafizur Rahman, who was bought in the auction for his base price of INR 1 crore, will miss the first two games. In their absence, Andrew Tye has a chance to prove his mettle. In the last few seasons, RR have relied overtly on their overseas contingent. This time, they will want to exploit their Indian bowlers with Dube being able to chip in with handy overs to complement Jaydev Unadkat and Kartik Tyagi.
One area that RR have perhaps missed out on is roping in a frontline offspinner with wrist spinning options available aplenty, with Shreyas Gopal being their most experienced. Apart from Gopal, RR have KC Cariappa, Mayank Markande, Rahul Tewatia, Riyan Parag, and Liam Livingstone with none of them having substantial experience of bowling in T20Is.
Having loaded their squad with all-rounders, they’ve given themselves more than enough options with the ball given the lack of bowling depth last season. Morris confirmed that Stokes’s role will be at the top of the order. The South African’s inclusion gives them the opportunity to open with Stokes and Jos Buttler, whose record at the top speaks for itself. Samson, Riyan Parag, Tewatia, Morris and Dube will make for a solid middle order along with Gopal, with four of the six offering them bowling options too. If the English opening pair click, given the form the two are coming in with, with pressure off the middle order, it could make for a blockbuster view with big-hitters lined up aplenty. The stability that they lacked last year, could be their strength this time around.
League phase venue split
Mumbai (5) || Delhi (4) || Kolkata (3) || Bengaluru (2)
Royals have had a top order adept against pace. Most of their batsmen – overseas and domestic – have a better record against pace than spin. Between Mumbai and Bangalore, they play 7 games at venues that would suit their line-up given the short boundaries and the chances of batsmen clearing the ropes with ease. Mumbai even provides something for the pacers initially, but without Archer, much of the onus will be on Morris. From Mumbai, when RR move to Delhi for their next four, they may find themselves struggling a bit with conditions favouring the spinners. That’s where their weakness of not possessing a frontline spinner may be exploited.
Uncapped player Watch
Chetan Sakariya has proven in the domestic T20 circuit what he’s capable of. In the 2021 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, he was Saurashtra’s highest wicket-taker with 12 scalps in five games, the sixth-highest wicket-taker in the tournament. The 23-year-old left-arm pacer has played 16 T20Is for 28 wickets including a five-wicket haul.
In 2020, he was picked as a net bowler for RCB in the UAE, but the Royals picked him up for INR 1.2 crore in the mini auction.
Likely best XI
Jos Buttler (wk), Ben Stokes, Sanju Samson (c), Riyan Parag, Shivam Dube, Rahul Tewatia, Chris Morris, Shreyas Gopal, Jaydev Unadkat, Kartik Tyagi, Jofra Archer/Mustafizur Rahman