Rajasthan Royals' philosophy at stake as they gear up for their second final

Rahul Dravid’s Rajasthan Royals shouldn’t be mistaken as underdogs, and yet are a bunch of players who would not be backed by most people to reach the heights they have © AFP

Six years after winning the inaugural Indian Premier League in 2008, the Rajasthan Royals find themselves in only their second final — this time in the Champions League Twenty20 2013. While the current line-up is completely different from the one that captured hearts in 2008, the philosophy and attitude towards the game have remained the same and will be at stake when they go up against the Mumbai Indians on Sunday. Prakash Govindasreenivasan has more.
The Rajasthan Royals of 2008 were dubbed as ‘Shane Warne’s boys’ who rose to unbelievable heights of success in the first season of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Looking at different squads in that year, not many would have put their money on the 40-year-old Warne to lead a young brigade of a handful of non-descript players. It was indeed, an underdog story. Warne had gone from a spin wizard to probably the best captain Australia never had.

Fast forward to 2013 and there is Rahul Dravid, another 40-year-old veteran, at the helm. Rajasthan Royals’ journey from being led by an eccentric, animated and a motivational Warne to a calm, composed and yet inspirational Dravid is worth observation.

Despite the contrasting characteristics, the manner in which Rajasthan have retained their core value from the first season is truly commendable. Even as they cling on to the tag of the perennial underdogs, there is more to the current side. Their ability to remain unbeaten at home has been one of the highlights of their current campaign and they have done it without too much fuss. The blueprint of their success and their philosophy can be extracted from the side that won in 2008 and the current one, on the cusp of more glory.

The first ever player auctions saw some of the biggest names in T20 cricket being picked up by the eight competing sides. Back then, Rajasthan gambled by picking the likes of Kamran Akmal and Mohammad Kaif, who weren’t exactly in the T20 mould. Their foresight in picking Ravindra Jadeja, long before he became the brand that he has turned into, or even selecting Yusuf Pathan only a few months after he made his T20 International debut in the ICC World Twenty20 in 2007, shed light on their mentality.

They were not out in the market to pick out the best available players. On a stricter budget, they managed to assemble a group of players who could be turned into match winners. Their ability to do that brought out one of the most beautiful aspects of club football, where teams that are built on shoe-string budget get their due when they go on to beat one of the top-four aspirants. Rajasthan was a team like that and their victory in the first season was as much a victory of their philosophy as of their players.

Warne is no longer on the field, Yusuf Pathan went to the Kolkata Knight Riders for the costliest bid in the 2010 auctions, Ravindra Jadeja is now a Chennai Super Kings hero. The only constant that remained in the side inherited by Rahul Dravid was Shane Watson, who continues to be one of the most important features of the side.

When all the players went under the hammer in the 2011 player auctions, Shane Warne & Co. once again picked players that would fit in more in a group rather than stand out on individual brilliance. While most teams were pushing and jostling for the big hitters and proven winners in the slam-bang version of the game, Rajasthan picked out South African spinner Johan Botha, Indian domestic cricketer Pankaj Singh, England’s Paul Collingwood and also picked Rahul Dravid. The idea behind that selection seemed fair and simple: Rajasthan needed a leader to take over Warne when the latter decides to call time. In that sense, Dravid — with his leadership qualities and the ability to inspire — came as a like-for-like replacement in the following season.

The team that was built around Dravid — the team’s captain in 2012 — had another set of young, unearthed talent hungry for success. They fit very well into the team’s mentality and it showed in their performances. It was a bit unfortunate that an out-of-sorts Chennai Super Kings side usurped them to the fourth spot in the 2012 season, but Rajasthan stuck to their basics and came back strongly in 2013. Th beauty of this Royals side is that they can’t be mistaken as underdogs and yet are a bunch of players who would not be backed by most people to reach the heights they have. And now that they have, almost every neutral would root for them.

When Borrusia Dortmund’s Polish striker Robert Lewandowski fired four times to give his side an unexpected 4-0 victory in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final match in 2012 against the gigantic Real Madrid, the world rejoiced at their success. The celebration did not come just for the fact that the mighty had fallen, but also to showcase how sports had often become a platform for such wonderful stories of the lesser mortal emerging victorious against tougher oppositions..

The final clash between Rajasthan Royals and the Mumbai Indians is being billed as the finale of finales, for two of India’s champion players — Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid — to feature together in a game for one last time. The fan camps at both ends are desperate to see their hero sign off with a victory, but there is a lot more riding on this fixture.

To be fair to the Mumbai Indians, they have finally started to play to their true potential. In spite of numerous big-name players, they didn’t quite play to their potential until the 2013 season of the IPL where they were crowned champions for the first time. To win the CLT20 2013 will be their way of showing their sustained dominance. For Rajasthan of course, it is their philosophy that will be at stake.

(Prakash Govindasreenivasan is a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @PrakashG_89)