They won the inaugural season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) but have since been among the also-rans. This, in a nutshell, has been the story of Rajasthan Royals across 12 editions of the showpiece domestic T20 event.
As the tournament kicks into gear for its 13th edition, this time in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it will present the Royals with yet another opportunity to do what they have struggled to since that opening season in 2008 – hold aloft the coveted trophy.
Coached and helmed by spin legend Shane Warne, Royals won their first and only IPL with a bunch of upstarts, drawn from the hinterland and domestic pool, and interspersed with some Indian and overseas cricketing superstars. More than the exciting brand of cricket that they dished out on the field, what clicked for them that season was that each player had the other’s back and contributed handsomely to the larger goal of taking their team to glory.
There was no clash of egos on show as the players, though separated by nationality and cricketing pedigree, bonded like family. While a rustic Kamran Khan (a left-arm quick) could be spotted in a free-wheeling conversation with the suave Rahul Dravid in the players’ dugout, a Yusuf Pathan could be seen cracking up with Brad Hogg at a joke. It was the dressing room ambience and team spirit that stood out for the Royals that season.
They had put together a crack squad, too, with the likes of Dravid, Shane Watson, Rob Quiney, Stuart Binny, Brad Hodge, Sreevats Goswami, Younis Khan and Mohammad Kaif leading the batting show and the express Shaun Tait spearheading the bowling along with young Kamran Khan, Dhawal Kulkarni, Munaf Patel, Brad Hogg, Ravindra Jadeja and Warnie himself.
It was a team that had all bases covered and it showed in their performances.
In the subsequent seasons, however, their performances dipped noticeably and the bonding didn’t seem as tight as it was before. While the owners and management retained the crux of the squad, that infectious ambience of the debut season seemed to have been lost.
Potential and form
Coached by Paddy Upton, who was formerly associated with the Indian team as the mental conditioning coach, and led by Ajinkya Rahane, who was to be replaced later by former Australian captain Steve Smith, the Rajasthan Royals finished seventh in the IPL points table last year. They had just five wins to their credit and suffered eight losses.
Rahane was woefully short of form and after a run of modest scores, he was benched. Though Smith took the reins thereafter, it didn’t make much of a difference to how the Royals fared on the field. The string of losses put paid to their hopes of making the play-offs and the Royals finished the season far and away from where they had hoped to be.
Keen to fashion a turnaround in their IPL fortunes, the management has brought in former Australian all-rounder Andrew McDonald as the coach this year. Smith will continue as skipper. They have put together a squad, which on potential and form, could help the Royals end their trophy drought since 2008.
While their batting has the experience and skill of Smith, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, David Miller and Robin Uthappa, it also has the exciting, raw talent of Sanju Samson, Riyan Parag and Yashashwi Jaiswal. Their bowling is in the able hands of Jofra Archer, Stokes, Tom Curran, Varun Aaron, Oshane Thomas, Jaydev Unadkat, the promising Kartik Tyagi, Mayank Markande and Shashank Singh. A host of their batters can also roll their arms over.
There’s hope in the Royals dugout that with a strong squad in place, good times aren’t too far away.