Despite being written off as title contenders by the media, Rajasthan Royals set their fans' hearts racing after clinching the Indian Premier League (IPL) trophy in the inaugural season. Under the leadership of Shane Warne, the Jaipur-based franchise went on a rollercoaster ride, winning 11 matches to top the points table before bagging the coveted IPL trophy.
But, for a side that had initially set the tone of the tournament, Rajasthan, despite their knack for unearthing obscure, high potential talent has never managed to live up to their reputation of champions. From 2009 to 2012, Rajasthan consistently finished at the bottom half of the points table.
In 2013, Rahul Dravid's leadership changed their fortunes as Rajasthan to make the cut for the Play-offs for the first time in four years. After finishing third in the group stage, Rajasthan won the Eliminator against Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) and looked promising in their efforts to reach the final. But, a spirited performance by Mumbai Indians (MI) in 2nd Qualifier saw them crashing out of the tournament.
If their heart-breaking loss left fans in disbelief, the infamous spot-fixing scandal that led to the arrest of Rajasthan's S Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila further dented their reputation. The following seasons saw them finishing fifth and fourth in the points table respectively before their suspension for two years.
Like Chennai Super Kings (CSK), Rajasthan returned to India's cash-rich T20 extravaganza last season, but couldn't match the heroics of MS Dhoni's men. Ajinkya Rahane-led Rajasthan finished fourth in the points table, but a 25-run loss in the Eliminator at the hands of Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) crushed their dreams.
In a bid to push for the title this season, the Royals splurged Rs 13.80 crore at the 2019 IPL Auctions. They roped in Jaydev Unadkat (Rs 8.4 cr), Varun Aaron (Rs 2.4 cr), Oshane Thomas (Rs 1.1 cr), Ashton Turner (Rs 50 lakh), Liam Livingstone (Rs 50 lakh), Shashank Singh (Rs 30 lakh), Riyan Parag (Rs 20 lakh), Manan Vohra (Rs 20 lakh) and Shubham Ranjane (Rs 20 lakh).
Jos Buttler's carnage at the top last season - which made him the leading run-getter for Rajasthan with 548 runs to his name - makes him a threat for Rajasthan's opponents this year as well. But, with captain Rahane at the other end boasting of a strike-rate of 118.24 - lowest by any player facing at least 200 balls in the last two editions, Rajasthan will have a mismatch at the top, unless they fix it this time around.
The availability of Steve Smith is a major boost for Rajasthan this season. He will find adequate support in the likes of Ben Stokes, Sanju Samson, Ashton Turner, Manan Vohra and Rahul Tripathi who are all capable of accelerating the innings for Rajasthan. The pace attack looks good with Jofra Archer, Varun Aaron, Jaydev Unadkat and Dhawal Kulkarni in the fray.
The spin-bowling department will probably see the likes of Shreyas Gopal, Ish Sodhi and Krishnappa Gowtham combining for Rajasthan this season. Overall, Rajasthan looks solid on paper. But, the lack of back-up Indian pacers and absence of proven candidates on the bench could hurt Rajasthan's chances this season.
Squad: Steve Smith, Ajinkya Rahane (c), Ben Stokes, Sanju Samson (wk), Shubham Ranjane, Ashton Turner, Stuart Binny, Shreyas Gopal, Sudeshan Midhun, Jaydev Unadkat, Ish Sodhi, Prashant Chopra, Mahipal Lomror, Oshane Thomas, Aryaman Birla, Riyan Parag, Dhawal Kulkarni, Jofra Archer, Krishanappa Gowtham, Liam Livingstone, Jos Buttler (wk), Varun Aaron, Shashank Singh, Manan Vohra, Rahul Tripathi.