Like Chennai Super Kings, the Rajasthan Royals return to the Indian Premier League after two seasons. With original captain Steve Smith banned for a year, veteran Royals star Ajinkya Rahane will lead the team at VIVO IPL 2018.
The Royals were the first fairytale team in IPL history, setting the tone for the tournament with an ultimate title run in the very first season – led by Shane Warne. They led the way as far as young talent and domestic Indian picks went; we saw the rise of Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja through this team, while fleeting stars like Goan batsman Swapnil Asnodkar and Pakistani star Sohail Tanvir stole the stage in what became the most memorable “team” effort of our time. Incidentally, current Australian coach Darren Lehmann, who is due to resign in a few days, was part of the 2008 title-winning Rajasthan Royals team. Shane Watson was man of the tournament, while Graeme Smith, Mohammed Kaif and Morne Morkel completed the experience. The Royals won 11 of their 14 games to top the group stages, and then defeated CSK in a nail-biting final on the last ball. It was a win for all ages.
Since then, however, the Royals have been inconsistent – never quite being able to recapture the magic of that season. In the 2009 IPL in South Africa, they finished sixth. In IPL 2010, they finished seventh. In 2011, Warne bid farewell after they failed to qualify again in the sixth position. 2012 was equally depressing, but 2013 was a bittersweet season – with the spot-fixing controversy leading to the ban on three players, while they made the playoffs. They made the playoffs in 2015 again but missed out by a whisker in 2014 in a dramatic group stage finale against Mumbai Indians that nobody will forget soon.
2008 forever. Nobody expected the Royals to stand a chance after the auction, with many wondering what exactly Warne’s strategy was. But the “moneyball” worked – the cheapest team, full of newbies and specialists, stormed to victory and changed the way auctions functioned after that. The Daredevils tried the young formula under Dravid as a mentor, but they didn’t succeed.
Rajasthan Royals have played the least number of matches among the eight regular teams (118)
Technically, if you count Sunrisers Hyderabad and Deccan Chargers to be the same team across eras, the Royals remain the only franchise to have won the IPL title just once. Hyderabad, Chennai, and Kolkata have won it twice, while Mumbai has three titles.
Rajasthan holds the record for the highest successful run chase in IPL history when they chased down 217 in the first season against the bottom-placed Deccan Chargers.
The Royals are the only team with a member (Shane Watson) that has won the Most Valuable Player award twice (2008, 2013).
The Royals have qualified in the top 4 in only three out of their eight seasons.
Some of the most unlikely domestic heroes have belonged to the Royals: including 43-year-old Pravin Tambe, young Sanju Samson, Karun Nair and Swapnil Asnodkar.
In 2014, in the last match of the group stages, Rajasthan Royals were in fourth place above the Mumbai Indians – who needed to pull off an unlikely coup by not only defeating Royals but also achieving their target within 15 overs. Royals were the favorites after scoring a mammoth 189/4 with a Sanju Samson special. But much to Rajasthan’s shock, Mumbai pulled off the most stunning jailbreak in IPL history – they chased down 190 in 14.4 overs (88 balls) riding on a Corey Anderson blitz. Nobody will forget Rahul Dravid’s livid reaction in the dugout after that last six into the stands. This was perhaps the most memorable match this decade.
The squad is slightly weakened by the exit of Steve Smith. But Rahane will reunite with exciting Pune Super Giant opening partner Rahul Tripathi to lend the Royals some meat at the top. The most expensive player in IPL history, Ben Stokes, also last year’s MVP, will try to follow in Shane Watson’s all-rounder footsteps to carry the team to the playoffs. The presence of Jos Buttler lends more balance to a middle order in which it will come down to Sanju Samson again. One suspects this will be his last chance to grab that Indian jersey.
The bowling looks underrated – with Stokes, Jaydev Unadkat, Ben Laughlin, Anureet Singh and Dhawal Kulkarni. Rahane is a sound, sane captain who will enjoy playing with an inexpensive, unglamorous team. The opening pair of Tripathi and Rahane will be a treat to watch.
Stuart Binny isn’t a complete player. The spin bowling department looks empty, with Shreyas Gopal, Prashant Chopra, and Jatin Saxena the only options. The middle order is weak, too.
Ajinkya Rahane, Rahul Tripathi, Sanju Samson, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Stuart Binny, Mahipal Lomror, Shreyas Gopal, Dhawal Kulkarni, Jaydev Unadkat, Dushmantha Chameera