The first-ever IPL champions, Rajasthan Royals haven’t been able to replicate their title-winning performance ever since. They had a forgettable outing last year and will be hoping to make amends after their horror run when they finished rock bottom.
Desperate for results this year, the Royals have rung in some key changes at the top. Young Sanju Samson replaces Australian Steve Smith, who had an underwhelming season last year, as skipper. Coach Andrew McDonald has also been let go and instead Sri Lanka legend Kumar Sangakarra has been roped in as the director of cricket.
The franchise parted ways with Steve Smith, Akash Singh, Anirudha Joshi, Ankit Rajpoot, Oshane Thomas, Shashank Singh, Tom Curran and Varun Aaron. At the auction, they bought eight players including South African all-rounder Chris Morris for a whopping Rs 16.25 crore, making him the most expensive buy in the IPL auction history.
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In a major blow to the franchise, pace spearhead Jofra Archer will miss at least the first few games due to an elbow injury.
Strength: The Royals have a solid batting unit which is their biggest strength. The English duo of Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes can take any opposition to the cleaners.
Last season, Stokes was elevated to the role of the opener and although he struggled initially, he played some brilliant knocks, single-handedly winning games for his side. While Buttler has already proven to be one of the best T20 openers ever.
New skipper Sanju Samson has emerged as one of the brightest talents in the league. He has been among runs in the last few seasons. South Africans David Miller and Morris are more than capable of whacking the ball out of the park.
All-rounders Rahul Tewatia and Riyan Parag have also proven they can win matches with the bat. New recruit Shivam Dube too has played a few game-changing knocks in the domestic circuit.
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Weakness: The Royal’s pace bowling unit is a cause of concern. Last year, they were heavily dependent on Archer to provide breakthroughs. Jaydev Unadkat and young Kartik Tyagi struggled to get a grip and leaked runs. The team management paid the big bucks for Morris, who is one of the best death bowlers in the league, in the hopes that the South African will work with Archer in tandem.
However, with Archer out of the first few games and Sangakkara announcing that star all-rounder Stokes would not be bowling too much, Morris would be expected to do the heavy lifting.
The spin department is devoid of much experience save Shreyas Gopal. However, the leg spinner’s performance has taken a dip in the last two years. The other option is Tewatia who is more of a batting all-rounder. There is Mayank Markande but after the first season, he has lost his sting.
The Royals lack a strong Indian contingent and are hence over-reliant on their foreign recruits which is another issue. The majority of the domestic players in the RR squad are uncapped and lack the experience, which puts the likes of Buttler, Stokes, and Archer under excessive pressure to perform.
Opportunity: It will be a huge opportunity for young skipper Samson to put up a good, consistent performance and guide his team to their much-awaited second title.
Yashasvi Jaiswal had an awful season last year, the highly talented opener will be eager to make most of the limited opportunities that come his way.
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Threat: Samson’s lack of experience could cost Rajasthan dear. The wicketkeeper-batsman will have to ensure that the added responsibility of leading the side doesn’t affect his batting.
The lack of experience in handling pressure situations can haunt some of the youngsters and is a huge threat.
Squad: Sanju Samson (c & wk), Jos Buttler (wk), Ben Stokes, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Manan Vohra, Anuj Rawat, Riyan Parag, David Miller, Rahul Tewatia, Mahipal Lomror, Shreyas Gopal, Mayank Markande, Jofra Archer, Andrew Tye, Jaydev Unadkat, Kartik Tyagi, Shivam Dube, Chris Morris, Mustafizur Rahman, Chetan Sakariya, KC Cariappa, Liam Livingstone, Kuldip Yadav, Akash Singh.