Rajasthan Royals boosted by Smith’s return

True to its reputation, the Rajasthan outfit strikes a perfect balance between star power and youth.

Aussie Steve Smith is back and that is great news for Rajasthan Royals and its skipper Ajinkya Rahane.   -  PTI

A side that is led by Ajinkya Rahane, and has heavyweights such as Ben Stokes, Steven Smith and Jos Buttler in its ranks, has to be taken seriously.

And for this, Rajasthan Royals is being considered one of the favourites in the Indian Premier League (IPL) this time around.

Last year, the side made it to the play-offs, and this time even as most of the line-up remains intact, the franchise has got a boost with the return of Smith.

Smith missed out on the IPL action in 2018 as he was suspended by Cricket Australia for being involved in the ball-tampering episode. But now with his return, the batting department is set to benefit.

However, there are fitness concerns for the Aussie star, who underwent a surgery a couple of months ago. But the franchise bosses are hopeful that Smith will be able to feature right from the start.

True to its reputation, the Rajasthan outfit strikes a perfect balance between star power and youth. While the side will be banking heavily on the experience of skipper Rahane, the batting department will largely be dependent on Smith, Butler and Stokes. Having been with the franchise for a long time, both Smith and Rahane have a clear understanding of the expectations and that would certainly help them deliver the goods.

 

Last season, Butler proved quite effective for the side, amassing 548 runs. And this time, too, all eyes will be on the English wicketkeeper-batsman. The widely experienced Stokes certainly gives the Royals an edge over the others. Even though the England all-rounder did not make a huge impact last season, the team management would be hoping for him to come good this time.

Last year, bowling was an area of concern for the side and keeping that in mind, the franchise strengthened its pace attack by bringing back Jaydev Unadkat for a whopping ₹8.5 crore in the auction and also roped in India international Varun Aaron.

With his pace, Aaron could prove effective. Adding to it, the side also has Jofra Archer and Oshane Thomas — who can provide breakthroughs at crucial junctures.

While it would rely on Unadkat and Stokes, the Royals also has some talented domestic players in Rahul Tripathi, Krishnappa Gowtham and Shreyas Gopal to bolster the line-up. It also ensured that the old boys like Sanju Samson and Stuart Binny were brought on board to get the core team right.

That certainly puts the house in order for the Royals. The fact that it has brought back Paddy Upton as the head coach will certainly give the team management a sigh of relief. In the past, Upton had the reputation of bringing out the best from the young guns and Royals would want him to do the same this time too. But then, with the World Cup nearing, most of the overseas players have been asked to return by late April or early May by their respective boards. In that case, the franchise is likely to miss out on some star quotient in the second phase of the tournament.

And for that, the franchises will be hoping to make the most of the opportunities in the first leg of the tournament so that they find themselves comfortable in the points table.

The squad

Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Steven Smith, Jaydev Unadkat, Rahul Tripathi, Prashant Chopra, Krishnappa Gowtham, Shreyas Gopal, Mahipal Lomror, Sudhesan Midhun, Ish Sodhi, Jofra Archer, Dhawal Kulkarni, Jos Buttler, Sanju Samson, Ben Stokes, Stuart Binny, Aryaman Vikram Birla, Oshane Thomas, Riyan Parag, Varun Aaron, Liam Livingstone, Shashank Singh, Shubham Ranjane, Manan Vohra and Ashton Turner.