Just like humans, teams tend to develop a defining character with the passing of time. In most situations, this attribute allows them to excel and the success leads to further solidification of the trait.
As Rajasthan Royals turns seven, it seems to have consciously adopted the tag of an ‘underdog’. Although such a label brings a layer of unpredictability and vulnerability to the team, RR seems to enjoy punching above its weight. Certainly, there’s a virtuous joy in it.
This preference for being the ‘little ones’ was manifested during the auction which saw a refusal to break the bank by the franchise. The most expensive player was Steven Smith, bought for Rs. 4 crore.
The funds were depleted too as RR had decided to retain five players. However, it could be argued that the franchise was almost forced into the decision after last season’s successful campaign. In the absence of previous skipper Rahul Dravid due to retirement, it’s not a surprise to see that RR chose to maintain the side’s core.
Hence, Shane Watson (the new captain), James Faulkner, Stuart Binny, Ajinkya Rahane and Sanju Viswanadh were not released.
Moreover, five other players from last season’s side were bought at the auction — Brad Hodge, Kevon Cooper, Pravin Tambe, Vikramjeet Malik and Dishant Yagnik.
A few additions to the side seem astute but overall, RR possesses shards of weakness. The recruitment of Tim Southee and all-rounders Rajat Bhatia and Abhishek Nayar is noteworthy but the bowling resources are distinctly lean.
If the four slots for foreign players are filled by Watson, Smith, Faulkner and Hodge, then the bowling setup would be propped by Dhaval Kulkarni, Tambe and Bhatia.
Certainly, the prospect is not inspiring. Notably, if Tambe is unavailable, RR could be forced to play either Iqbal Abdulla or Deepak Hooda as its leading spinner.
With spinners expected to play a decisive role in the tournament, one has to cast doubts over the franchise’s auction strategy.
Indeed, such apprehensions have been set aside in the past by the side’s abundant spirit. But Watson’s capabilities as a leader are not redoubtable, though, he has Dravid for assistance. The latter will function as RR’s mentor.
Shift of ‘home’
The franchise’s decision to play its home matches in Ahmedabad will deny the Rajasthan Royals fans in Jaipur the thrill of IPL. Last season, RR had achieved a 100 per cent success record at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur but logistical hassles have led to a move away from the venue. Outside Jaipur, the franchise won only three matches out of 10 in the 2013 IPL.
The squad: Shane Watson (capt), Stuart Binny, James Faulkner, Ajinkya Rahane, Sanju Viswanadh, Steven Smith, Brad Hodge, Rajat Bhatia, Tim Southee, Dhawal Kulkarni, Iqbal Abdulla, Deepak Hooda, Dishant Yagnik, Kevon Cooper, Vikramjeet Malik, Ankit Sharma, Rahul Tewatia, Ankush Bains, Amit Mishra, Pravin Tambe.
BEST FINISHES: Winner in 2008, third in 2013 and sixth in 2009 and 2011.
WIN-LOSS RECORD: Played: 88, won: 46, lost: 40, no result: 2.
TOP PERFORMERS: Leading run-getter: Shane Watson (1887). Highest wicket-taker: Siddharth Trivedi (65).
WATCH OUT FOR
RR’s most expensive acquisition Steven Smith has enjoyed a successful six months with Australia as he played a vital role in the team’s Test series wins over England and South Africa.
After struggling for consistency in his early years, 24-year-old Smith has become a reliable batsman across all formats. Not to forget his handy leg-breaks that could prove to be crucial for an RR side that lacks quality spinners.
Although he has been more successful in the longer format recently, Smith’s T20 numbers are impressive. After 98 matches in domestic competition, the Australian has a batting average of 27.03 runs at a strike rate of nearly 120. Smith’s agility in the field is remarkable too.