If reports doing the rounds in Rajasthan cricket circles are to be believed, then Jaipur’s Sawai Mansingh Stadium might have seen the last of the IPL games. That’s one of the biggest fears as the future of Rajasthan Royals hangs in balance, caught in a crossfire between N Srinivasan and a Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) adamant on recognising his bete noire, Lalit Modi.
With Jaipur taken off the IPL roster this year, Ahmedabad has got four of Rajasthan Royals’ prime ‘home’ matches. And if the RCA-BCCI spat isn’t resolved soon, the games may not be brought back to Jaipur, and the name Rajasthan Royals will be a misnomer at a venue outside the state.
It could even lead to a new franchise in place of RR. Although franchises have reportedly struggled to sell part of their stake, certain Gujarat corporate houses have shown interest.
“Too early to say but we can’t rule out this franchise moving to a new place permanently. In fact, that is what we fear. There have been such talks,” says Mahendra Sharma, treasurer of the RCA, which is not being recognised by the BCCI. RCA’s 30-odd secretaries decided to back Modi and elect him president. The election results are still with the Supreme Court, and although the BCCI admits Modi has won it refuses to recognise the body because Modi has been expelled by the board.
The immediate effect of the move to Ahmedabad will be felt on the team. With an impeccable record at home (see box) and full knowledge of the logistics, the team was at a huge advantage in Jaipur.
“The pitch suits them, and the record speaks for itself. Besides, it was easy to handle things in Jaipur. It was a well-oiled machine that had to just be switched on,” said an official connected to Rajasthan Royals on condition of anonymity. “On any given day, RR would want to play there.”
Last year, they had an unbeaten record in Jaipur. And with the core of the team, Ajinkya Rahane, Shane Watson, James Faulkner, Abhishek Nayar and Sanju Samson retained from last year, they would have started outright favourites this season.
“The franchise would love to play there but they have to go with the Board which feels there are issues playing at SMS.”
With the match-fixing and betting turning the focus not just on the players but also on the owners, it was unlikely there would have been any opposition from the franchise or the players.
Rahul Dravid, last year’s skipper and now the team mentor, was the one who exploited the familiar conditions to the utmost. But Dravid, on the rolls of N Srinivasan’s India Cements and sharing a healthy relationship with the BCCI supremo, wasn’t expected to oppose the move to Motera.
Most of the teams travelling to Jaipur always struggled to get to grips with the pace of the SMS wicket. Dravid often used strategies that surprised the opposition, for example using spinners like the now disgraced Ajit Chandila first up. It is something that has now become a trend. “We always tried to prepare hard tracks where the ball used to skid a bit. Being the home team, it is something Royals got used to more than the other teams. They understood the wicket well,” says RCA official Taposh Chatterjee, who is in charge of preparing the wicket at SMS.
Now, RR will have to re-think strategy. Their preparatory camp is at DY Patil Stadium in Mumbai and they’ll visit Motera only after they return from the UAE, in the middle of the IPL. It may not give them time to get used to the track.
“Motera is an ideal T20 wicket, batting friendly and will most likely see scores of 150-200,” says Vijay Patel, head of cricket operations at Gujarat Cricket Association and head coach of the state. “And since we are hosting Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi against RR, there are definitely going to be packed houses.”
Thankfully though, RR have a good side. Filled with all-rounders, RR may have to pack their XI with big-hitters like Watson, Faulkner, Samson and Steve Smith. Their pace unit, especially the foreigners, is enviable and so is their batting though spinners don’t evoke much confidence.
They have a habit of turning local players into heroes, but the team may not have a high level of local value this time around. “Basically, it is the Rajasthan team. Even though there will be packed houses, support will be for different teams,” says Patel.
Those who have been to Royals’ games in Jaipur know how the local media always asked endless queries on local stars like Ashok Menaria and Pankaj Singh.
Thus, this can be a makeshift arrangement at best. For, in the coming seasons, either Royals will have to get the games back to Jaipur to build on the identity or rediscover themselves into some other team, as the RCA officials are beginning to fear.