Winner of the first Indian Premier League (IPL) crown, Rajasthan Royals (RR) brings a lot of flair to its cricket but often loses direction. It has a fairly encouraging record at home and will be one of the key sides in this edition too.
When Shane Warne taught the winning ethics to RR in the inaugural edition, he only underlined the strength of a team that believed in a collective charge. The dressing room was a great learning place for some of the star-struck youngsters.
To share space with stalwarts such as Warne and Graeme Smith meant the world for fledgling cricketers like Ravindra Jadeja, Swapnil Asnodkar, Yusuf Pathan, Niraj Patel, Pankaj Singh, Mahesh Rawat, Siddharth Trivedi. The magical Warne swung the contests with his individual brilliance and also motivated the rest to raise their game.
The Australian was the driving force of a team that understood its limitations well in time. Not many big names but many big performers on big occasions.
The fact that Rahul Dravid chose to devote one more season, his third with RR, augurs well for the team.
The professionalism that Dravid brings to the job will make the difference. Not the best promoter of this brand of cricket, Dravid has lent his experience and expertise to RR. One saw some compelling knocks from him, some astonishing shots that did not form his repertoire in Test and one-day cricket. It is a tribute to his flexibility that Dravid slips into the role of a Twenty20 batsman at 40.
Dravid and Ajinkya Rahane, 16 years younger, make an exciting opening pair for RR. One of the most successful batsmen of the last IPL editions, Rahane was RR’s top run-getter at 560 and Dravid next with 462.
Obviously RR will expect Dravid and Rahane to come good consistently and make the most of Shane Watson’s availability for the entire period. Last year, the Australian all-rounder played just seven matches and it would be interesting to see if he agrees to bowl in the IPL after failing to do so for Australia in the recent Test series against India.
RR will have a few new faces. Australian youngster James Faulkner is a sound investment. So is a fully fit S. Sreesanth, who has the ability to settle a contest even in four overs. Kerala batsman Sachin Baby and wicketkeeper Sanju Samson will benefit from playing alongside quite a few stalwarts.
The Sawai Man Singh Stadium is a cauldron most days and yet commands a full house with the fans braving the heat to back their heroes. It is laudable that the team continues to receive the backing of its supporters even though it has failed to finish higher than sixth in the last four editions of the IPL. Dravid and Co. have the potential to emulate the Warne model of triumph.
Meanwhile, coach Paddy Upton is upbeat.
“It is essential to work out a fine balance between team and individual performance. Our focus is to play at our level best and deliver top performances throughout the season. We as a team provide space to our players to take their own decisions, judge their performance and together we all help each other to execute these decisions on field. We try to not only improve the sporting skills in our players, but also help and groom their overall personality.”