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Rajasthan Royals in IPL 2014: Shane Watson-led side set for fresh start

Shane Watson © IANS
Shane Watson will look to lead Rajasthan Royals from the front with inspiring performances © IANS

The ‘budget team’ of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Rajasthan Royals have repeatedly exceeded expectations of fans and have pulled off creditable finishes right from the very first season. R Vishal previews the team that lost the second qualifier to Mumbai Indians in the IPL 2013, and promises a good season ahead in IPL 2014…

Whenever they have lacked in firepower, Rajasthan Royals (RR) made up with excellent man-managers in Rahul Dravid and Shane Warne galvanising a group of young, hungry and a plucky bunch of players. IPL 7 auctions followed a familiar pattern as witnessed in the past and have made some smart buys yet again.

The inaugural winners of the IPL in a lot of ways had a watershed season last year. Just like the previous editions of the IPL, Rajasthan started off as underdogs at the start of the tournament but went on to have an excellent run, which saw them reach the playoffs of the tournament. They resultantly qualified for the Champions League T20 2013  where the men in blue reached the finals before being stopped in their tracks by Mumbai Indians (MI).

Dravid, who led the side in the last edition will now be mentoring the side. ‘The Wall’s’ ability to hone and nurture players is a trait that has seen widespread praise from his Rajasthan teammates. While the former Indian captain’s calming influence helped the team reach great heights on the field, the off field events — the IPL 2013 spot-fixing and betting scandal —left a sour taste in mouths of cricket lovers.

The IPL 1spot-fixing scandal of 2013 came as a huge shock and owner Raj Kundra was accused of playing a part in shady deals. Even a few weeks ago, it wasn’t clear if Rajasthan would play a part in IPL 7. The Sawai MansSingh stadium has been a fortress for Rajasthan in the previous editions, but with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) shifting all the home matches for Rajasthan Royals to Ahmadabad, they will certainly be deprived of one of their strongest advantages.

Captain

Australian all-rounder Shane Watson has taken over the reins from Dravid and this could be a move that could define Watson’s carrier. The team-management wholeheartedly trusts the abilities of Watson, who has been one of their lynchpins and a long term member of the franchise. The big-hitting Watson has played many a match-winning knock for Rajasthan but now has to adapt to a role that is ill-accustomed to. With captaincy being thrust upon him, Watson may have to tone down his aggressive demeanour and provide a calmer presence in the Rajasthan dressing room.

Having been in international cricket for a decade now, Watson needs to look no further than his predecessors who led with exemplary standards. It however, remains to be seen what Watson can do as captain taking his own past record.

Strengths

Despite all the controversies surrounding the team, the team spirit as always, has been exceptional with each member making his presence felt.

James Faulkner had barely entered international cricket a year ago and over the past few months, cemented a reputation of being one of the most exciting lower order batsmen in international cricket with some enthralling knocks. Faulkner’s assault on Ishant Sharma in the One-Day International (ODI) in Mohali will be a talking point for years to come, but also because he will be leading the line with his left-arm pacers. Rajasthan have a lot riding on his bowling.

Steven Smith has sealed a permanent spot in the Australian Test team with consistent performances in their Ashes whitewash and their 2-1 win in South Africa. Smith is a wonderful strokemaker and one of the better Australian players of spin bowling. Almost certainly, the blond New South Wales man is expected to play in most of the games and is expected to play a stabilising role in the middle order. Smith also gets a lethal turn with his leg-spinners and would be a handy with the ball.

The star of Rajasthan is India’s Ajinkya Rahane. So adept at all formats of the game and pure delight to watch, the right-hand batsman is the backbone of the Rajasthan set-up. Rahane is one of India’s best fielders and is ultra-reliable with the bat. Much of Rajasthan’s fortunes will ride on what Ajinkya sets for his team at the top order.

Weakness

Watson’s abilities as a captain are uncertain and compared to the other franchises, lack a bit of X-factor players. The nature of the format screams for players who can turn the game in a matter of a few deliveries and franchises like Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore have them in abundance in their squad.  The Rajasthan set-up also works on a very thin squad and a couple of injuries to key players might derail their season. Dravid will be working as a mentor but the man’s presence has been instrumental in nurturing harmony on the field despite the chaos off it.

Key Indian Players

Rahane, as mentioned before, has blossomed into one of the finest next-generation batsmen and it one of the vital elements in the team. Stuart Binny has already made his first steps in international cricket after a long wait and is one of the senior players in Rajasthan. The stocky Karnataka all-rounder will have the selectors’ eyes on him and IPL 7 performances might go a long way for Binny to be on the plane that leaves to Australia and New Zealand for ICC World Cup 2015.

The rise of Sanju Samson, the teenage wicketkeeper was one of the biggest success stories to have come out for Rajasthan and the Kerala batsmen has been constantly on the rise ever since his big break last year.

Key Foreign Players

The aforementioned Steven Smith is one of the fast rising players on the international circuit but his credentials as a T20 player is yet to be seen. In the bowling department, Tim Southee rules the roost and is in a rich vein of form. Despite his tender age, Southee will be leading the line for Rajasthan with the new ball. Kevon Cooper was a livewire with the ball last season and team management have retained their faith by keeping the lanky West Indian. Australian rookie Ben Cutting is an unknown element and might turn out to be a smart buy. Even at the ripe old age of 42, Brad Hodge will play a role and is one of the masters of this format. It will be interesting to see if Hodge will start though, given the young make-up of the team.

Other Indian Players

India’s ICC U-19 World Cup 2012 winning captain Unmukt Chand has already been touted to follow the prolific Virat Kohli’s footsteps. Hailing from the rich batting reserves of Delhi, Chand shows remarkable maturity at the crease and has a wide range of strokes and compact technique. Abhishek Nayar is quite an asset in T20 cricket and has been outstanding servant for Mumbai in domestic cricket. Consistency, however has eluded Nayar but his vast experience will be useful for the team. Yet another player in his forties, Pravin Tambe still soldiers on and his wise head continues to be a boon for Rajasthan. With no world-class spinners in the team sheet, Tambe will be called upon to roll his arm at some point.

Past Records in each IPL

Defying all odds and playing with an unheralded team, Rajasthan won the first IPL and have been having steady with each passing year despite not touching the dizzying heights of the first year. The team prides on players taking turns to take their team to victory. Last year, the team reached the playoffs before bowing out to Mumbai. In previous IPL’s, Rajasthan haven’t fared badly and have always been a team that knocked the doors of the fourth spot.

Click here for IPL 2014 Schedule: Match time table for IPL 7

(R Vishal is a journalist and an alumni of the Asian School of Journalism. He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)

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