CLT20 2013: Rajasthan Royals have been impressive so far, but have to be cautious going ahead

Rajasthan Royals are unbeaten at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, Jaipur in 2013 © IANS

Rajasthan Royals continued their impressive form in the Champions League Twenty (CLT20) 2013 and sealed top spot in Group A with a four-wicket win over Otago Volts on Tuesday. They have played all their matches in the comfort of their home ground at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur. They also play the semi-finals at the same ground. But if they qualify for the final, which is in Delhi, they could come unstuck, writes Shrikant Shankar.

There is always a romance in sport associated with the underdogs. Many say that is what makes any sport more enjoyable. Rajasthan Royals enjoy the same affection. When the Indian Premier League (IPL) started in 2008, there were only eight teams. For many who were from parts of India where there wasn’t any IPL team to support, Rajasthan Royals became the team to support. They were led by the great Shane Warne and surprised everyone by winning the IPL in its inaugural edition. This was a side without some of the biggest names in Twenty20 cricket.

They then endured a dull patch for the next four seasons. Perhaps the absence of the big names hindered their progress to a certain extent. But in the 2013 edition of the IPL, they were back to their best and were ably led by Rahul Dravid. Rajasthan had to withstand a storm that has still not completely passed, in the form of the IPL 2013 spot-fixing controversy, but emerged stronger as they finished third. One thing which is common in all the six editions of the IPL (barring the 2009 one that was held in South Africa) Rajasthan have been indomitable at their home ground — the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur.

Rajasthan’s record at their fortress is as good as any in the competition’s history. They have won 24 of the 33 matches played at the venue. They have continued that impressive form into the Champions League Twenty (CLT20) 2013 tournament. They first beat Mumbai Indians by seven wickets in their first match. Then they tamed the Lions by 30 runs before easing past Perth Scorchers by nine wickets. On Tuesday, they beat an Otago Volts side that was on a 15-match winning streak by four wickets. Again, all their matches were played at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium. They qualified for the semi-finals and topped Group A in the process as well. Luck seems to favour them as their semi-final match is also at the same venue.

But what happens if they reach the final, which will be held in New Delhi at the Feroz Shah Kotla? They have got too comfortable with home conditions and that could come back to bite them in the final, provided they qualify of course. Another team faced a similar situation during the 2011 edition — the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB).

The star-studded RCB team played all their group matches at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. They lost their first two matches to Warriors and Kolkata Knight Riders. But they came back strongly to beat Somerset and South Australia. In the semi-final, also in Bangalore, they beat New South Wales in a high-scoring match. Virat Kohli and Chris Gayle were at the forefront in their march into the final.

Bangalore met a depleted Mumbai Indians in the final. The final, however, was in Chennai. All their matches at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium were high-scoring, but they faced a slow track at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai. Most of the matches in Chennai were low-scoring. In the final, Mumbai were bowled out for 139 and Bangalore looked set to win. But Mumbai were led by an inspired Harbhajan Singh and a lethal Lasith Malinga to victory by 31 runs as Bangalore bowled out for 108.

Such a drastic change in the team total was possible due to the shift in venues. Coming back to the 2013 edition, Rajasthan also face the same situation. They have generally not liked to bat first when they have won the toss. But on the one occasion where Dravid lost the toss, his team was asked to bat first. They responded with a commanding total and their bowlers comfortably defended it. Their semi-final is on Friday and they would be confident of getting over the line irrespective of whichever team they face. But it is after that they will have to be cautious of.

The pitch in Delhi has still not been used so far. The first match to be played is between Mumbai and Perth on Wednesday. Then, the second semi-final will be played on Saturday. If Rajasthan do qualify for the final, they will have to perform even better to win the match. Rajasthan Royals have again won the hearts of the fans with their displays and nothing can change that, irrespective of their eventual results. Everyone wants Sachin Tendulkar to win the CLT20 in his final T20 sojourn, but everyone also wants Rahul Dravid to do the same. For that to happen, Dravid’s impressive side needs to perform to their fullest.

(Shrikant Shankar previously worked with Mobile ESPN, where he did audio commentary for many matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20. He has also written many articles involving other sports for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)