This is a season of new beginnings for the Rajasthan Royals. The side has a new head coach in Andrew McDonald, a new captain in Steve Smith, and a new “home” in the United Arab Emirates.
And the franchise will hope this turns out to be a season of turnarounds. It’s been 12 years since the Royals won its only Indian Premier League (IPL) title – under the captaincy of Shane Warne in the inaugural 2008 edition.
Tweaking the leadership roles – of both captain and coaches – hasn’t really changed the team’s fortunes over the years. But that hasn’t stopped the management from trying out new options in terms of shuffling the support staff and players. The fact that it traded stalwart Ajinkya Rahane to the Delhi Capitals ahead of the 2020 season and named Smith skipper made it evident that the franchise has changed its game plan.
The idea now is simple: cut the flab and invest in players who could emerge as game changers.
That approach was clear in the auction as the Royals think tank went in for youngsters Yashasvi Jaiswal, Akash Singh and Kartik Tyagi at rather high prices. All three impressed at the under-19 World Cup and the expectations from them are high.
But the onus will be on the core batting department that includes Smith, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and David Miller, all of whom have had strong outings over the past year.
However, despite spending big money, the bowling has been an area of concern for the Royals over the last three seasons. The department will continue to be spearheaded by Jaydev Unadkat, who’s failed to fire in the IPL in the past but had a dream run in the Ranji Trophy this season, scalping 67 wickets for Saurashtra. He will be backed by Tom Curran, Andrew Tye, Varun Aaron and the young Akash Singh.
What comes across as a good development for the team is the bond between captain Smith and head coach McDonald, who is also an assistant coach with the Australian national team. Having spent a lot of time together on national duty, the two understand each other well, and that will definitely help in a long tournament like the IPL.
In the auction, the Royals roped in the seasoned Robin Uthappa, who has vast experience and knows how to change the course of a game. That should help the side, though his form remains a concern.
While the management is confident of the team’s chances, it will interesting to see how it fares in the extreme conditions of the UAE — where temperature soars up to 42 degrees — early in the tournament. Living inside the bio-bubble for nearly three months could be challenging, but the Royals would seek a winning start in order to set the tone for the remainder of the tournament.
The squad: Steve Smith (captain), Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Sanju Samson, Jaydev Unadkat, Robin Uthappa, David Miller, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Aniruddha Joshi, Manan Vohra, Riyan Parag, Varun Aaron, Shreyas Gopal, Mahipal Lomror, Shashank Singh, Ankit Rajpoot, Rahul Tewatia, Mayank Markande, Oshane Thomas, Anuj Rawat, Kartik Tyagi, Akash Singh, Tom Curran, Andrew Tye.
Top three run-getters
Top three wicket-takers