Rahul Tewatia clobbering five consecutive sixes off Sheldon Cottrell to help Rajasthan Royals pull off the highest run chase in IPL history. Riyan Parag showcasing his 'Bihu' moves after scripting another stunning chase alongside Tewatia. Ben Stokes paying tribute to Ged, his cancer-stricken father, with a match-defining ton.
These were just a few shades of individual brilliance in an otherwise abysmal 2020 campaign for Rajasthan Royals (RR), where they finished at the bottom of the table.
The franchise’s overall IPL history isn’t that pleasing either. Yes, they do have the inaugural (2008) title and three playoff appearances (2013, 2015, 2018) in their portfolio, but since 2009, they haven’t been a unit that’s potent enough to go the distance.
Ahead of IPL 2021, the management took some stern decisions, releasing Steve Smith and handing over the leadership to Sanju Samson being the most notable ones. Besides, they also roped in Kumar Sangakkara as the Director of Cricket.
While Samson has led Kerala in domestic cricket, leading in IPL, a franchise T20 tournament of sizeable repute, will be a different ball game altogether. Smith's captaincy came under the scanner due to frequent chopping and changing last season, and this time around, fielding a relatively settled XI would be on the mind of the new skipper.
To reduce the over-reliance on speedster Jofra Archer, RR bagged the services of all-rounder Chris Morris for Rs 16.25 crore, making him IPL’s most expensive acquisition ever. Shivam Dube, Mustafizur Rahman, Liam Livingstone, and young left-arm seamer Chetan Sakariya are their other noteworthy purchases.
Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, and Sanju Samson are all match-winners on their day and form a formidable top order. While the two Englishmen are definite starters, Sanju, who is likely to walk out at No 3, will aim to sort their batting positions quickly as possible.
The concern, however, will be to identify the opening partner for Buttler/Stokes. Yashasvi Jaiswal, a product of the U-19 World Cup, failed to capitalise on his limited chances last season and in case he doesn’t click, Manan Vohra can be looked at as a potential opener.
Following them will be Tewatia and Riyan. While the left-hander became a household name last season, RR would seek consistency from Riyan.
After a successful Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy with the bat (average: 40.25, strike rate 138.79), Dube will be itching to cement his position in the middle order Besides, Archer and Morris, both capable of striking some lusty blows, are handy options down the order.
Largely thanks to the all-round options at RR’s disposal, they have significant depth in batting, at least on paper.
Archer's fitness, Morris' longevity
A wily bowler, power hitter, and gun fielder — Morris is a full T20 package. However, having played under 10 matches across the last four seasons, his IPL history indicates that he is extremely prone to injuries. The South African's longevity is something that everyone will have their eyes on, given he came in at the heftiest price point in IPL history.
RR were in dire need of a quality seamer to support Archer. For that, the franchise used as many as seven seamers. Their returns - 21 wickets at an economy rate of 10.54 and an average of 61.90.
The season hasn't even started and their troubles have amplified as Archer is expected to miss at least the first four games, having undergone a finger surgery.
In Archer's absence, Morris will once again have to spearhead their pace attack, just like he did for RCB last year. In that sense, a hole still remains unplugged as Sanju will have to judiciously use Morris' four overs.
— Rajasthan Royals (@rajasthanroyals) April 4, 2021
There’s no match for Archer, last season’s ‘MVP’. But the franchise will take heart from Andrew Tye's form in Big Bash League, where he scalped 21 wickets at 7.99 runs per over. Mustafizur, an experienced T20 campaigner, is another possible option that can operate in tandem with Morris.
In a baffling decision, RR purchased KC Carriappa, the fifth leg spinner in their squad, who will join the likes of Shreyas Gopal, Mayank Markande, Tewatia and Parag. Their spin attack, being a one-trick pony, can be exploited by teams that have more left-handed batsmen in their line-up.
Even as Archer’s temporary absence appears to dim their bowling attack, RR have Morris and a few decent backup options. And while Morris, Stokes, and Buttler form an enviable three of the four overseas picks, they would be better served if their Indian contingent steps up on a consistent basis.
Full squad: Sanju Samson (c), Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler, Riyan Parag, Shreyas Gopal, Rahul Tewatia, Mahipal Lomor, Kartik Tyagi, Andrew Tye, Jaydev Unadkat, Mayank Markande, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Anuj Rawat, David Miller, Manan Vohra, Chris Morris, Mustafizur Rahman, Shivam Dube, KC Cariappa, Chetan Sakariya, Liam Livingstone, Kuldip Yadav, Akash Singh.
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