In major development on Wednesday, former IPL champions Rajasthan Royals let go of their star batsman and captain Steve Smith ahead of the players auction next month. The Australia superstar has been replaced as the captain by Sanju Samson who was RR’s leading run-getter last season.

Reports of the RR team management not happy with the returns from Smith on both batting and captaincy fronts were already doing the rounds in the media. The decision was arrived at after a review of their performances during IPL 2020 following which Smith was released.

RR owner Manoj Badale said a strong local Indian leadership was a reason behind their big call. “As the IPL has grown, the captaincy has become a year-round task, and as such strong local Indian leadership has become increasingly important,” Badale in a statement.

“Sanju made his debut as a Royal, and it has been a joy to watch his development over the last 8 years. He is the ideal person to lead the Royals into the 2021 season,” he added.

Ahead of IPL 2018, Smith was the only player retained by the the inaugural champions for a whopping Rs 12.5 crore.

Meanwhile, Samson is looking forward to the leadership role. “I am excited about the challenge that lies ahead of me as the leader of the team,” Samson said.

“The Royals have had some wonderful captains over the years and I’m so grateful for all the time I’ve spent working with and learning from great leaders like Rahul Dravid, Shane Watson, Ajinkya Rahane and Steve Smith!! I now cannot wait to get started and look forward to the season ahead,” he added.

Under Smith, RR finished last in IPL 13 and he scored 311 runs at a strike rate of 131, including three half-centuries.

Apart from Smith, Australia superstars Glenn Maxwell (Kings XI Punjab) and Aaron Finch (Royal Challengers Bangalore) were also released by their respective franchises.