Rajasthan go into IPL 2014 on the back of a good showing in the 2013 season © IANS
Rajasthan Royals (RR) will begin their Indian Premier League (IPL) 2014 campaign against Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) on April 18. Rajasthan are the neutrals favourites in the IPL. They don’t and never had the big stars, so, their teamwork is essential. Shrikant Shankar believes they will have to get their team composition right to succeed in IPL 2014.
It all began in 2008 in the inaugural edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) where Rajasthan Royals (RR) confounded many and won the hearts of even more en route to clinching the title. Shane Warne showed his nous as captain to get the best out of a bunch of players not many had expected to even qualify for the semi-finals. A few years down the line, Rajasthan were led by Rahul Dravid. The tactically brilliant Indian legend took the team till the Eliminator in IPL 2013.
Now they are led by Shane Watson and the team has tried to keep a familiar look heading the seventh edition of the T20 extravaganza. Watson is not new to captaincy, but this will be a different test altogether. While Dravid is the team mentor, on the field, Watson will have to call the right shots. He has with him a bunch of players who are talented, but may not make the Dream Team of the IPL, barring himself probably. Rajasthan’s dream run last season was mainly down to their invincible home form. This time though, that is a slight issue.
The IPL will be held in the Middle East till the end of April. And quite a significant chunk of the matches will be played on neutral venue. But Rajasthan have another issue as when the IPL returns to India from May onwards, their home ground will be the Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad. So, there will be no home benefit for them. While Ahmedabad may be their designated home ground, they are more used to playing at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur.
All these factors make it all the more harder for Watson and co. and this is precisely the reason why their team combination has to be spot on. The four foreigners’ slots are essential to Rajasthan’s success. Watson is probably the default player in one spot. They also have the likes of Steven Smith, Kevon Cooper, Brad Hodge, James Faulkner and Tim Southee. The little lesser known foreigners to Indian audiences are Kane Richardson and Ben Cutting. It is mostly an Australian unit in this department with one West Indian and one New Zealander.
The Indian contingent is even more crucial to their plans. Ajinkya Rahane is a very good opener and a magnificent fielder. Sanju Samson was the one of the finds of IPL 2013 and he has looked good for India Under-19 since then. Rajasthan also have utility players in Rajat Bhatia and Stuart Binny. Their contributions with the bat are welcomed along with their expected share of bowling. Abhishek Nayar is a slight reverse as he is more of a batsman.
Then there is the player dubbed as the next Virat Kohli. While Kohli’s stock has risen incredibly in the last few years, the expectation quite unfairly has increased on Unmukt Chand. But a new team and new atmosphere could bring about a lease of life for India’s former Under-19 World Cup-winning captain. There are other exciting youngsters like Karun Nair, Dhawal Kulkarni and Deepak Hooda in their squad. They also have a 42-year-old Pravin Tambe who practically rose as an unknown. Now everyone in IPL knows what he can do with the ball.
Rajasthan have a lot of good players and Dravid would probably get the best out of them. They are not a team like Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), where Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers can win matches single-handedly. Or like Mumbai Indians (MI) who have Lasith Malinga and Kieron Pollard. Chennai Super Kings (CSK) have MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina. Or like a Sunil Narine for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). Rajasthan need at least five-six players performing regularly if they are to win IPL 2014. Team combinations will have to be spot on depending on the conditions and the opposition. It could be a tough journey, but not something Rajasthan have not come through successfully before.
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(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)