The glory of the first IPL, however, was lost in the subsequent tournaments
Rajasthan is a land acknowledged for valour. The gallantry may not have always reflected in its sporting fables but there have been two striking achievements in recent times that give a glimpse of its potential. The Ranji Trophy triumphs in 2011 and 2012 and the Indian Premier League (IPL) crown in 2008.
Shane Warne, one of the most celebrated achievers in world cricket, left a rich legacy for Rajasthan Royals, a team that had few supporters initially. But the legendary Australian leg-spinner inspired a bunch of dreamers to achieve their goal in style. A team that had the untested Niraj Patel and Swapnil Asnodkar as openers won the final at Mumbai off the last ball. If the Rajasthan team was good enough to dream, it was good enough to live it too!
Patel and Asnodkar were very keen to shine on a stage that was the cynosure of the cricket fraternity. They did shine. Yusuf Pathan made a mark too with his belligerence at the crease. So did Siddharth Trivedi with his controlled seam bowling. They all remained grateful to Warne, who played the mentor's role to perfection.
The glory of the first IPL, however, was lost in the second held in South Africa. Rajasthan failed to qualify for the knock-out stage. Warne, Pathan and Jadeja played 13 matches each and Graeme Smith 12. But the magic was missing. Asnodkar, Patel and Trivedi faded. The crass commercialism of the tournament was now causing concern in cricket circles and it was best signified in Sunil Gavaskar's observations at the Dilip Sardesai Memorial Lecture.
“Today, parents are encouraging their children to take up cricket as a career option because of the IPL and the amount of money it provides. But the worrying factor is far too many youngsters see IPL as the be all and end all. A lot of players miss out on domestic cricket before the IPL to avoid injuries. That is what we have to be very, very careful about, the IPL being seen as the be all and end all, not the India cap. The other thing to guard against is players in the age group of 19-22 going the wrong way [because of the money factor]. Younger players get carried away by fame, publicity and success.” Prophetic words indeed from Gavaskar.
In IPL 3, Rajasthan again lost its way, succumbing in eight of the 14 matches. It was seventh among eight teams at the end of the league stage. The absence of Smith, who played just two matches, hurt. The expectations were misplaced too as Abhishek Jhunjhunwala was touted to deliver in the middle order. Asnodkar figured in a mere two matches and Patel in none. Warne was still around but Rajasthan was a pale shadow of the vivacious team it was.
A semifinal slot remained out of reach in the last edition. Warne had announced it was to be his farewell cricket competition. Obviously, a lot was expected of him. But he got mired in a confrontation with a key official of the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) and left the Sawai Man Singh Stadium a bitter man.
Warne was livid at the choice of the pitch for the home match against Chennai Super Kings. His public spat with the official attracted a fine but Warne had his moments in the away-match against Mumbai. He had Rohit Sharma stumped by yards in his and the team's final over for his only wicket and then the team responded by winning the contest. It was a fitting farewell gift for the most colourful character that modern cricket has known.
What Gavaskar said three years ago is beginning to worry the administrators. The lure of IPL has clearly pushed the significance of first-class cricket into the background. IPL is the priority now but Rajasthan Royals would do well to remember Warne's tutorials. “Performance should be the priority to prosper,” he always advocated.
The team: Rahul Dravid (captain), Shane Watson, Shaun Tait, Ajinkya Rahane, Brad Hodge, Brad Hogg, S. Sreesanth, Dinesh Chandimal, Johan Botha, Kevon Cooper, Paul Collingwood, Ajit Chandila, Amit Paunikar, Amit Singh, Ankit Chavan, Ashok Menaria, Deepak Chahar, Abhishek Raut, Aditya Dole, Owais Shah, Dishant Yagnik, Faiz Fazal, Gajendra Singh, Pankaj Singh, Samad Fallah, Siddharth Trivedi, Stuart Binny and Sreevats Goswami.