Rajasthan Royals have not made it to the IPL finals since they won the inaugural edition in 2008. However, if one takes away the last edition, they have done better than is usually perceived. On either side of their ban, they have finished in the top five in four consecutive seasons; this includes three appearances in the Playoffs.
With 11 points, the Royals finished seventh in 2019. However, one must remember that this was the closest league result of all time: three teams – fourth to sixth – finished on 12 points each, while the two teams at the bottom got 11 apiece. In other words, Rajasthan needed another win to go through to the Playoffs.
Rajasthan in 2019
Rajasthan’s acquisitions in 2019 included Jaydev Unadkat, Varun Aaron, and Oshane Thomas, all excellent fast bowlers but with ordinary economy rates in T20 cricket. All three turned out to be expensive, but two of them played key roles in two of their wins. Aaron was named Player of the Match for his 4-1-20-2 against Kings XI Punjab, as did Unadkat for his 4-0-26-2 against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Three of their signings were successful. Liam Livingstone played only four matches, but he hit a boundary (a four or a six) every four balls; Riyan Parag, all of 17, demonstrated that he is one to be invested in for the long term; and Stuart Binny’s performances (strike rate 175, economy 6.28) went unnoticed, probably because he delivered in short bursts.
Ashton Turner’s excellent show against India in an ODI at Mohali just before the IPL had led to mounting expectations. Turner came into the IPL with a duck in each of his last two T20 innings – and started the tournament with three more.
Steven Smith replaced Ajinkya Rahane as captain mid-season, but by then Rajasthan were almost as good as out of contention. After losing five of their first six matches, Rajasthan did win four of the next six, but it turned out to be one match too late.
Rahane and Smith both topped the 300-run mark in the tournament. Unfortunately, neither man scored at great pace (at 116, Smith was the slowest batsman of the side by some margin), which put the likes of Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, and Sanju Samson under pressure. Having let Rahane go this season, they will want to pick a couple of power hitters at the top.
Bowling was a bigger worry. Of the bowlers who sent down over 10 overs for them, Jofra Archer (6.76) and Shreyas Gopal (7.22) were the only ones to concede less than 7.5 an over. And if one takes Thomas (7.90) away, nobody has kept it under 8.5. Gopal and Archer were also their leading wicket-takers, which shows how desperately they need bowlers to take the pressure off the pair.
Players released: Ashton Turner, Liam Livingstone, Ish Sodhi, Oshane Thomas, Jaydev Unadkat, Stuart Binny, Shubham Ranjane, Rahul Tripathi, Sudhesan Midhun, Prashant Chopra, Aryaman Birla.
Transfers: Acquired Ankit Rajpoot, Mayank Markande, Rahul Tewatia; released Ajinkya Rahane, Dhawal Kulkarni, Krishnappa Gowtham
How they shape up: INR 28.9 crores available, 11 slots to fill (four overseas)
The Royals released 14 men in all (including exchanges). Four of them – Turner, Livingstone, Sodhi, and Thomas – are overseas cricketers.
Turner, as we have seen, had disappointed, while Thomas was too ineffective to occupy one valuable slot for an overseas player.
1⃣1⃣ spots left
28.9 Cr. to spend
— Rajasthan Royals (@rajasthanroyals) December 12, 2019
Sodhi’s exclusion can be explained by their acquisitions. They already had Gopal doing an excellent job, and now they have added Markande and Tewatia to their squad. Given the success of wrist spinners in the IPL over the years, Rajasthan may even include all three (and have some more in the reserves). No plan can be too outrageous when Shane Warne is part of the team.
Gopal and Tewatia will be needed to play second roles for them as well, down the batting order. With Stokes already in the side, they may now have the luxury of playing five bowlers.
Rahane, Kulkarni, and Unadkat’s releases were, given their performances, on the cards. Livingstone and Gowtham (career strike rate 163!) were somewhat underused despite the Royals’ string of failures.
Major holes to plug
Rajasthan’s four big names – Smith, Stokes, Buttler, and Archer – are all overseas players. If all four take field, they will have to include seven Indians. Unfortunately, barring Samson and Parag, they do not have enough Indian batsmen with impressive IPL records.
A similar problem lies in the pace department as well. They have three leg-spinners, two of whom can bat, but the pace department looks wanting. Remember, the pacers should preferably be Indians, for they will want to accommodate their Big Four as many times as possible.
In other words, their focus should be on explosive top-order batsmen and fast bowlers, and perhaps an off-spinner or two. Most of these new picks should be Indian.
On the radar
The most obvious choice at the top, ahead of Aaron Finch and Jason Roy, purely because of Lynn’s IPL record (strike rate 141). Lynn has had a terrific stint for Kolkata Knight Riders for some years, forming an unlikely pair at the top with Sunil Narine.
He is also three runs short of becoming the leading run-scorer in Big Bash League history. He averages 141 in all T20s; and has hit 123 sixes in the BBL when nobody else has hit more than 67.
The Knight Riders are likely to buy Lynn back, but Rajasthan are likely to bid for him as well. The only drawback? He is not an Indian.
It took one season for Jaiswal to rise from obscurity to emerge as a star in the Vijay Hazare Trophy to secure a spot in the Deodhar Trophy, and finally earn a place in the India Under-19s squad for the upcoming World Cup.
Jaiswal is yet to play a domestic T20 match, but his Vijay Hazare Trophy numbers – 564 runs at 112.80, a strike rate in excess of a hundred, a double-hundred, 25 sixes in six innings – will certainly make him hot property at the auctions.
If Jaiswal is a likely acquisition, so is his captain at the upcoming Under-19 World Cup. Garg, like Jaiswal, had an excellent outing at the Vijay Hazare Trophy, and stood tall amidst the ruins to demonstrate his ability to absorb pressure in the Deodhar Trophy final. Like Parag and Jaiswal, Garg will be an investment worth it.
Vishnu Vinod hit 29 sixes in this season’s Vijay Hazare Trophy, the most. He outscored his more illustrious Kerala teammates – Robin Uthappa, Samson, Sachin Baby – in the tournament. Apart from Jaiswal, he was the only one to hit three hundreds in the tournament. Kerala’s early elimination prevented him from pulling off an encore in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, but his T20 career strike rate stands at 137.
On his bad days Deshpande may be erratic. But when he finds the right spot, he is one the most dangerous bowlers to face – for he is one of the fastest bowlers in the country. His dismissal of Nitin Bhille last season – a bail flew to the boundary – drew attention. So obvious is his talent that his axing from the Mumbai side this season led to two selectors being sacked and Deshpande being included.
Getting Deshpande to bowl in the Powerplay or in the death overs may be a gamble of sorts, but his extra pace may break the monotony in the middle overs, when Rajasthan are expected to use a cohort of spinners.
Delhi released Morris after his ordinary show in the 2019 edition. However, his IPL experience, ability to bowl in the Powerplay and at the death, and a knack of finding the boundary may help Rajasthan find the balance they seek. Unfortunately, like Lynn, Morris will also be an overseas recruitment.
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