IPL 2013: Watson, Hodge walk into the side as proven match-winners for Rajasthan Royals

Brad Hodge (left) is a finisher and one of the finest T20 players going around. On the other hand, Shane Watson s (right) role may be restricted to batting, but he is a huge asset and packs the line-up with much punch © AFP

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

In the summer of 2008, Shane Warne inspired a side of relative young and unknowns to a memorable victory in the inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL). Rajasthan was then the weakest side on paper, but the side had the X-factor that saw them lift the title.

Rajasthan have maintained the same formula in all their seasons without winning the title again. They do not have a wealth of heavyweights like some of the other franchises. What they have in their roster are impact players — those with the ability to turn games almost single-handedly.

With Dravid and Ajinkya Rahane at the top, Rajasthan have the most classical opening pair in the league.

Both approach the game with the kind of finesse that’s like a puff of fragrance amid the corruptions of the format. While Dravid is all about solidity, Rahane is comparatively flamboyant. In fact, Rahane made a huge impact last IPL season with his dashing approach. He showed it’s possible to maintain a healthy strike-rate without eschewing the tenets of the coaching manuals.

Rajasthan may have some problems picking their foreign players as each of them present strong cases for selection. With an upper limit of four on foreign players in the playing eleven, Rajasthan would necessarily have to end up benching some fabulous players. Shane Watson and Brad Hodge are two men who would walk into the side as proven match-winners. Watson’s role may be restricted to batting, but he is a huge asset and packs the line-up with much punch. On the other hand, Hodge is a finisher and one of the finest T20 players going around. They need his experience and calmness in the middle order.

Owais Shah can be dangerous. Considering his unorthodox approach and ability to hit the ball in uncanny areas, Shah is an important player in the T20 format. However, Rajasthan also have all-rounders in Kevon Cooper and James Faulkner who can be huge value to the side. Sri Lankan Kusal Perera also has made an impression in his international outings.

Samuel Badree and the veteran Brad Hogg are the overseas spinning options. Their fate would also depend on the combination Rajasthan opt for. It looks like they might back their Indian spinners and would pick foreign players in other departments. Harmeet Singh, the star of India’s Under-19 World Cup triumph in 2012, will be the one to watch out for as he looks forward to transition at a higher level. A lot would be expected of Ajit Chandila, the man who impressed during the last season. Ankeet Chavan is another candidate in the spin department and is one bowler who can restrict the flow of runs. Ashok Menaria may also roll his arm over, if needed.

Interestingly, Rajasthan’s three frontline seamers are Shaun Tait, Fidel Edwards and Shantakumaran Sreesanth. They are genuine wicket-takers, but can go for plenty on a bad day. Playing then together would be a huge gamble as Rajasthan may have a lot to do if they struggle in the same game. Siddharth Trivedi would be the domestic player they would field regularly as a fast-bowler.

In most of the past seasons, Rajasthan have introduced domestic players who have gone on to make a name for themselves. Some of them have continued to build on the promise, while others have slipped into obscurity. This season, the players who could invoke interest are Sanju Samson, Sachin Baby and the young Kumar Boresa.

On a whole, Rajasthan have their method in place and it is just a matter of striking the right balance. They must guard against losing their way midway in the tournament and must capitalise on every opportunity to win games. It was that ruthlessness and the never-say-die spirit that saw them taste success in 2008.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)