Ajinkya Rahane    BCCI
Ajinkya Rahane BCCI

Back after serving a two-year ban due to a spot-fixing scandal, inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL) champions Rajasthan Royals will definitely miss the star power of beleaguered former Australian captain Steve Smith but will look to Ajinkya Rahane for inspiration and hope their good-looking squad can deliver in the upcoming edition starting on Saturday.

Rahane was named the skipper of the Jaipur-based franchise after Smith was removed in the wake of the ball-tampering incident under his leadership in Australia’s Cape Town Test against South Africa. “The game is bigger than any individual and we hold this thought close to our heart,” Manoj Badale, the co-owner of Rajasthan Royals, had said while announcing the news.

Regarded as one of the best batsmen around, Smith would have no doubt been Rajastan’s mainstay at the top of the order, and it came as no surprise when they chose to only retain the 28-year-old Australian from their previous squad. But due to the unfortunate turn of events, the 2008 winners will now have to plan without him and by the look of things they have the firepower to pack a punch.

Besides Rahane who has time and again proved he is no pushover when it comes to T20 cricket, Royals have the likes of celebrated England all-rounder Ben Stokes and effective white-ball bowler Jaydev Unadkat, who they bagged for a record Rs 11.5 crore.

Royals also did well in the IPL auction by picking proven performers in other T20 leagues such as the Big Bash League in Australia. As a result, they have some exciting new faces in the IPL such as D’Arcy Short and Jofra Archer joining a talented bunch of Indian players.

Smith’s replacement, South African wicketkeeper batsman Heinrich Klaasen, is downright a handy pick with his impressive show against the Indian spinners in South Africa recently still fresh in memory.

With legendary Australia leg-spinner Shane Warne, who led Royals to the title triumph in 2008, roped in as the Team mentor, Royals will also have a good think-tank in the team dugout.

Besides Warne, Amol Muzumdar has been appointed as Royals batting coach, while former India spinner Sairaj Bahutule has joined in as the spin bowling coach. South African Paddy Upton has been retained as the head coach of the blue brigade.

In the bowling front, besides Unadkat who became the costliest Indian player, Archer, Ben Laughlin and Dushmantha Chameera will grace Rajasthan’s pace line-up that also includes Dhawal Kulkarni and Anureet Singh.

The spin department of the Warne-mentored side might be thin on experience with uncapped spinners Sudhesan Midhun, Ankit Sharma and Zahir Khan of Afghanistan in their ranks.

Royals have never depended on star power and this time too despite the likes of Stokes in their arsenal, could be the ‘dark horse’ every team should worry about.

In 2015 when they last took part in the cash-rich league, Royals finished fourth in the league stage and lost in the eliminator to Royal Challengers Bangalore.