IPL 2018: Steve Smith-less Rajasthan Royals (RR) eye solid return after two-year absence
Rajasthan Royals, into their ninth year in the Indian Premier League, have been pretty inconsistent ever since their fairytale title triumph in the inaugural edition. After being banned from the previous two editions due to the match-fixing scandal of 2013, RR will have a point to prove this season.
Even before they could make a fresh start in IPL this season, Royals were in turmoil with their newly-named skipper Steve Smith caught ‘cheating’ in the ball-tampering row that shocked the cricketing world. Much to their relief, Smith himself stepped down from captaincy and Rajasthan Royals replaced him with Ajinkya Rahane as leader of the team.
Rajasthan Royals would hope there is no more controversy and the focus remains on cricket. Despite Smith’s absence, the team looks good on paper. With batsmen like Rahane, Jos Buttler, Sanju Samson, all-rounder Ben Stokes, and promising Jofra Archer at their disposal, Royals have some of the best in the business.
Unlike in the past when Royals have been cautious with their spending, they opened their purse strings big time in this auction to build a strong all-round team. They have two most expensive buys in Ben Stokes and Jaydev Unadkat, who forged a potent bowling combination at Rising Pune Supergiant last season, guiding them to the final.
They have also bought some good domestic talents like Shreyas Gopal and K Gowtham of Karnataka. Both have been in good form and would be eager to prove themselves in the big league.
The return of Shane Warne, who guided them to title in the inaugural year in 2008, adds to the strength of the side. It will be interesting to see how he combines with Rahane, whose attacking and proactive leadership skills came to the fore against Australia during the Dharamsala Test last year.
Ajinkya Rahane (c), Ben Stokes, Jaydev Unadkat, Sanju Samson, Jofra Archer, Gowtham Krishnappa, Jos Buttler, D’Arcy Short, Rahul Tripathi, Dhawal Kulkarni, Zahir Khan Pakteen, Ben Laughlin, Dushmanta Chameera, Stuart Binny, Aryaman Vikram Birla, Anureet Singh Kathuria, Prashant Chopra, Ankit Sharma, Midhun S, Shreyas Gopal, Jatin Saxena, Mahipal Lomror
Head of cricket - Zubin Bharucha
Mentor - Shane Warne
Batting coach - Amol Muzumdar
Spin bowling coach - Sairaj Bahutule
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A veteran of 111 IPL matches, it will be Rahane’s duty to lay the platform for a big score with solid knocks at the top of the order. The responsibility of captaincy could do wonders to Rahane, who is struggling to find a permanent place in India’s ODI and T20I teams. His captaincy during the Dharamsala Test against Australia came in for huge praise.
The most expensive Indian player this auction (Rs 11.5 crore), Unadkat will look to deceive the batsmen with his cutters. Last season, Unadkat took 24 wickets at an average of 13 for Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS). He had several memorable moments, including a hat-trick against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
It’s a sort of homecoming for the Kerala player who is likely to shoulder RR’s wicket-keeping duties. He turned out for Delhi Daredevils (DD) last season and was their top run-scorer, with 386 runs including a century and two half-centuries. It put Samson’s career back on track after troubles on and off the pitch during the 2016-17 domestic season.
In what was seen as a surprise pick, Tripathi was bought by RPS at his base price of Rs 10 lakh during the IPL 2017 auction. With 391 runs in 14 innings, he ended the tournament as team’s second highest run-getter, helping RPS reach the final. Come this season, Tripathi would like to carry forward the good job he did last season. He could open the batting for RR with either Rahane or Jos Buttler accompanying him.
While he might not have played much international cricket (12 ODIs and two T20Is) yet, Kulkarni has featured regularly in the IPL. With 76 scalps in 72 games at an economy rate of 7.97, he has to be one of the smartest buys for Rajasthan Royals this season.
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It’s understandable that Rajasthan Royals invested heavily in Ben Stokes keeping in mind the kind of impact he can have in tricky situations. Despite uncertainty over his availability because of the ‘Bristol brawl’, the franchise shelled out Rs 12.5 crore for him.
Stokes had an outstanding IPL in 2017 where he scored 316 runs at a strike rate of 142.98, besides scalping 12 wickets for Rising Pune Supergiant. He was adjudged the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
He is a new entry into Rajasthan Royals line-up. A regular part of England’s ODI and T20I teams, Buttler relies on power-hitting and so far, it has reaped dividends for him. With 527 runs in 24 IPL games at a strike-rate of 145.98, he can be a safe bet – both as an opener and finisher.
Playing for Hobart Hurricanes, the 27-year-old made a big impression in Big Bash League (BBL). He is the first player in the BBL history to reach the 500-run mark in a single season. Short was rewarded for his impressive form, being selected in Australia’s T20 squad for the tri-series against England and New Zealand earlier this year. The southpaw reposed the faith shown in him with 196 runs in five games, including two fifties. With a strong showing in IPL, he would look to make a case for himself to be included in Australia’s ODI team.
The Sussex all-rounder, who played for West Indies at the U-19 level, grabbed eyeballs in this year’s BBL after a great showing for Hobart Hurricanes. With his ability to bowl at a good pace, hit lusty blows down the order, he looks a complete package for the former IPL champions.
The lanky Sri Lankan pacer can generate great speed. At 26, he still has a lot of journey to cover. Being part of Rajasthan Royals, a team which gives opportunities to youngsters, the 2018 IPL might just be the perfect opportunity for Chameera to shine.
2008 – Champions
2009 – Sixth
2010 – Seventh
2011 – Sixth
2012 – Seventh
2013 – Third (Qualifier 2)
2014 – Fifth
2015 – Fourth (Eliminator)
2016 – Banned
2017 – Banned