Shane Watson (above) would captain Rajasthan Royals and have Steven Smith as his deputy © IANS
Shane Watson (above) would captain Rajasthan Royals and have Steven Smith as his deputy © IANS

Ahmedabad: Rajasthan Royals, who won the inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL) title, have always been a side that punches above its weight and it will not be any different in the eighth edition that gets underway on Wednesday.

Rajasthan boasted of some of the smallest profiles of cricketers but went on to clinch the title in 2008 under spin legend Shane Warne’s mercurial leadership.

Since then, even though they are yet to capture their second title, they have always played the game with the fighting spirit coupled with the ability to surprise – features that are hallmark of the outfit’s mentor Rahul Dravid.

Dravid, along with head coach Paddy Upton have made utilization of talent a key agenda and in the process they have created stars out of the blue – Ajinkya Rahane, Stuart Binny, Sanju Samson and Pravin Tambe being the prime examples.

The team has struggled in the second, third, fourth and fifth editions of the tournament. But in 2013, Dravid inspired the team to a play-off berth that enabled them to play in the 2013 champions League T20 where they ended up being the runners-up.

In the last edition, they finished fifth place and this time they must be hungry to improve upon that.

However, off-field issues have often marred them. IPL’s murkiest scandal – the alleged spot fixing by three Rajasthan players – Ankit Chavan, S Sreesanth and Ajit Chandila shamed them.

It followed with the team’s co-owner Raj Kundra being found guilty of betting on IPL matches when the Supreme Court announced its landmark judgment in January.

Moreover, due to the ongoing legal tangle between now axed Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) president Lalit Modi and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the team will not be able to enjoy its home advantage of playing at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium (SMS) in Jaipur.

They have one of the best records of winning maximum number of home matches but now they won’t have that adavantage.

Last year, they played their home matches at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad. This year along with Ahmedabad, the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai will host some of their home matches, denuding the “home” advantage to a greater extent.

Going by the players in the team, Rajasthan possess a weaker collection of Indian players than other franchises. Ace Australian all-rounder Shane Watson will captain the side and will have his compatriot Steven Smith as his deputy.

No IPL side had as many representatives in Australia’s World Cup-winning squad as Rajasthan – skipper Watson, Smith and James Faulkner and they will be crucial for the Royals.

Rahane, Kerala’s wicketkeeper-batsman protege Samson, Karun Nair, Watson and Smith are expected to score much of the runs. A strong core of Indian all-rounders like Stuart Binny, Rajat Bhatia and Abhishek Nayar will provide stability to the squad.

In this year’s auction, they bagged South African medium pacers Chris Morris and Rusty Theron for Rs.1.4 crore and Rs.30 lakh respectively.

Apart from the duo, New Zealand’s World Cupper Tim Southee, Australian Ben Cutting and Dhawal Kulkarni are other pace bowling options.

These five pacers along with Watson, Faulkner and Binny make Rajasthan a strong bowling line-up. Last year’s find — leg-spinner Pravin Tambe, 40, will be the leading spinner.

Going by the arsenal they possess and a shrewd and thinking management behind them, Rajasthan must be hungry to emulate 2008 heroics.

The squad:

Indian Players: Abhishek Nayar, Ajinkya Rahane, Ankit Nagendra Sharma, Deepak Hooda, Dhawal Kulkarni, Dishant Yagnik (wk), Karun Nair, Pravin Tambe, Rahul Tewatia, Rajat Bhatia, Sanju Samson (wk), Barinder Singh Saran, Dinesh Salunkhe, Sagar Trivedi, Pardeep Sahu, Stuart Binny, Vikramjeet Malik.

Foreign signings: Shane Watson (c), Ben Cutting, James Faulkner, Steven Smith, Tim Southee, Chris Morris, Juan Theron.

Team Schedule:

Home matches in Ahmedabad: vs Mumbai Indians (April 14), Chennai Super Kings (April 19), Kings XI Punjab (April 21), Royal Challengers Bangalore (April 24), Royal Challengers Bangalore (May 13), Chennai Super Kings (May 16).

Mumbai: vs Delhi Daredevils (May 3), Sunrisers Hyderabad (May 7), Kolkata Knight Riders (May 16).

Away matches: vs Kings XI Punjab (April 10), Delhi Daredevils (April 12), Chennai Sunrisers Hyderabad (April 16), Kolkata Knight Riders (April 26), Royal Challengers Bangalore (April 29), Mumbai Indians (May 1), Chennai Super Kings (May 10).

IPL Record: 2008-champions; 2009-6th; 2010-7th; 2011-6th; 2012-7th; 2013-play-offs; 2014-5th.