Hyderabad: If there is one team in the IPL history which has delivered unexpected results, it has to be Rajasthan Royals. From being the champions in the inaugural edition to reaching the playoffs after standing in the bottom chart in the initial phase of the 2018 IPL, the Royals had already proven that no opposition can take them lightly.
However, post their 2008 triumph, they never made it to the final while they entered the play-off stage thrice (2013, 2015, 2018). The team was also suspended for two years (2016 &17) in the wake of the IPL betting scam.
All eyes will be on Australian batting great Steve Smith, who is coming back after a one-year ban by Cricket Australia for his role in the ball-tampering scam. Smith knows well that an impressive performance in the IPL will ensure him a place in the Aussies squad for the 2019 World Cup.
The Royals, which used to bank heavily on the lesser-known talents to punch above their weight, has now changed this tactic and broke records with their bids for England all-rounder Ben Stokes (Rs 12 crore in 2018 season) and Indian left-arm pacer Jaydev Unadkat (Rs 8.40 crore).
Indian Test team vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane is expected to lead the side and will have to play a crucial role along with the talented wicket-keeper Sanju V Samson in the top order. However, with Sanju nursing an injury, it remains to be seen from when he will be available for the Royals. Manan Vohra, Prashant Chopra, and Rahul Tripathi, who did well in the domestic tournaments, will have to shoulder the extra responsibility if Sanju is not playing.
England’s star wicket-keeper Jos Butler, who individually won several matches for the Royals last season, mercurial England all-rounder Ben Stokes and Barbadian- born English pacer Jofra Archer are available only for the first half of the league. For a team which relied heavily on these three and lost the 2018 semis in their absence, it remains to be seen how they will perform without the trioin the latter half of the IPL.
The Royals also have a decent pace line-up that offers variety with the experienced Jaydev Unadkat, Varun Aaron and Dhawal Kulkarni capable of handling the new ball while Oston Thomas and Archer are also expected to play crucial roles.
Batting all-rounder K Gowtham and bowling all-rounder Shreyas Gopal along with New Zealand’s spinner Ish Sodhi will be handling the spin operations.
While the Royals retained most of the core group in the 2019 auctions, they bought nine players ahead of this season’s IPL. They added a couple of fast bowlers in Varun Aaron and Oshane Thomas and some batting back-up with Manan Vohra, Liam Livingstone and the new Australian sensation Ashton Turner.
The Royals will be hoping that Turner, who destroyed Indian bowling in the Mohali ODI and has the reputation of a big hitter in the Big Bash League, continues his good form.
The 2008 champions, who can defeat any opposition in their day, will have to stop relying heavily on a few individuals and need to play a team game which used to be their strength.