Will IPL’s Moneyball Team Rajasthan Royals Make Lightening Strike Twice?

Will IPL’s Moneyball Team Rajasthan Royals Make Lightening Strike Twice?

The Rajasthan Royals have always been the overachievers of the IPL. Right from the first season, when some websites and newspapers completely overlooked RR, and wrote that there were only 7 teams taking part in the IPL. Of course, RR came back to win the whole competition with a swashbuckling team effort unraveling lots of new stars. And that is the identity of the Rajasthan Royals. They’re the Moneyball team who are extremely wise with what they spend on, and aren’t reluctant to go for underappreciated players and youngsters with extreme potential rather than big name stars. This year, their squad has a great balance of both. Let’s see the team.

Probable Playing XI –

  1. Jos Buttler* (wk)
  2. Robin Uthappa
  3. Steve Smith* (c)
  4. Sanju Samson
  5. Ben Stokes*
  6. Riyan Parag
  7. Rahul Tewatia
  8. Shreyas Gopal
  9. Jofra Archer*
  10. Jaydev Unadkat
  11. Mayank Markande

The first thing that strikes you after seeing the lineup is that overseas core. The 4 overseas players that RR have are arguably the 4 best overseas players in the whole league! Buttler is definitely one of the best openers n the IPL, as his performances in recent seasons have shown. Archer has been a bit patchy recently for England, but there’s no denying that he is still one of the best pacers in the competition. Steve Smith is Mr.Dependable, he isn’t necessarily the best T20 player, but he sure can churn up a match-winning performance when it is most needed. And Ben Stokes just won the ICC Player Of The Year trophy, so technically he is the best player in the world right now! Not too shabby.

The Royals’ overseas players – Buttler, Smith, Stokes, Archer – are absolutely sensational. They are easily 4 of the best players in the world.

Let’s look at the team’s batting. The opening combination seems great with a mix of fiery play ad a solid approach. Robin Uthappa obviously has a lot of experience, and he can be relied upon. But he hadn’t been living up to the expectations in recent seasons with KKR. He is at a new team now, however, and his training and team-bonding videos on RR’s social media platforms suggest that he is in high spirits and has great motivation to do well for RR. Buttler will be instrumental in getting RR off to a good start, because if he doesn’t get going, RR will struggle to keep the run rate high.

Next we have Steve Smith and Sanju Samson. Here, the RR management could apply an idea which does sound good in theory, but may not work practically. Here goes. If Uthappa gets out, then they can send in Smith. And if Buttler loses his wicket, then Samson can go in instead. The idea is to always have one aggressor and one anchor on the pitch. Lets see if they do decide to go with something like this. Even if they don’t, I believe they have no problems here in the middle order. Both these players are pure class, and either one of them can step up in a tough situation. They are also the only two players in the teams who can be considered RR veterans. They were the only ones who were with the team even before the ban in 2016. All the others are new buys. So it is clear that RR trusts Smith and Samson very much, which is why Smith has also been given the captaincy. A little known fact is that statistically, Steve Smith is the best ever IPL captain, because he has the highest win percentage out of every captain in IPL history!

Steve Smith and Sanju Samson are the two stalwarts of Rajasthan Royals. They will rely hugely on them.

Next up is Ben Stokes. Now, it may be pointless to even discuss him because he might just be withdrawing from the IPL. His father is suffering from brain cancer, and will be undergoing surgery. In such a situation, it will be perfectly understandable if Stokes does choose to pull out of the competition. In that situation, Tom Curran or David Miller will start in the XI. Curran brings in a bowling option along with a hard-hitting bat, while Miller brings in lots of experience in finishing, which is RR’s most pressing weakness. However, most probable is that Curran will start, given that he’s already played under captain Steve Smith for the Sydney Sixers, and was actually their most valuable player in the title-winning 2019 season. I’m sure that if he does end up playing, he won’t disappoint. The second all-rounder will almost definitely be Riyan Parag. He was such a revelation in last year’s IPL! Here is a 17-year old boy who’s more nervous about the upcoming results of his board exams, than he is about bowling to MS Dhoni or batting against Jasprit Bumrah! He played crucial roles in most of RR’s wins last season, both with the bat and the ball. All RR fans must be looking forward to seeing the player he becomes.

Ben Stokes is a complete gamechanger – but he might miss the IPL altogether because of personal reasons.

RR’s major weakness is definitely finishing, but if they have another one, its spin bowling. Shreyas Gopal will have to carry them in that department. Shreyas has been deemed RCB’s worst nightmare’ because every time he plays against RCB, its like he’s Shane Warne incarnated. He’s taken an average of 3 wickets a game against RCB while playing for the Royals, including a brilliant hat-trick! Also, he has dismissed AB De Villiers every single time he has walked out to bat against Shreyas. And Virat Kohli, the world’s best batsman, lost his wicket to him 3 out of the 4 times they’ve faced each other in the IPL. If ABD and Kohli aren’t considered Shreyas’ bunnies, I don’t know what anything means anymore. Anyway, apart from him, the lineup consists of Mayank Markande and Rahul Tewatia. Markande will definitely have to play but I think Tewatia will probably sit out for another batsman, probably Yashasvi Jaiswal or Manan Vohra. I have put him in the XI, but it is tough to say whether he will play or not. If RR takes the decision based on the pitches of UAE, then he should play, given the turn that is on offer. But if RR is more practical, and visualizes a situation where they need some 35 runs in like 3 overs, and they ask themselves – who in the lower order is going to get that for us? Then they will most definitely go with Yashasvi or Vohra.

Shreyas Gopal took 20 wickets last season, performing specially well against RCB with a hat-trick against them.

The final department is the pacers. Here, RR is not lacking one bit. To start, they have arguably the best bowler in the world, Jofra Archer. Yes, he certainly hasn’t had the best year of his life what with a serious back injury, a ban because of disciplinary issues, problems with facing racism, and a dip in form overall. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going. He wasn’t fast tracked into the World-Cup winning England team for no reason! He will bounce back. Then they have Jaydev Unadkat. His 2017 season with the Rising Pune Supergiant, was one of the best individual seasons ever. Thus, the Royals made him the most expensive Indian player at the 2018 Auction with a staggering bid of 11.5 Crores. Long story short, he let them down big time that season. Then in 2019, again a similar story happened with Unadkat falling short of expectations once again. RR has still showed faith in him, and bought him again for the 2020 season, and this time things may be different. Unadkat is coming off the best ever Ranji season for a bowler in history. He;s broken the records for the most wickets taken and he captained his side to a Ranji Trophy victory! So I’d say he’s in good touch. The final cog in the pace machine would be Ben Stokes, but we can’t really be sure about him. If Curran or Tye replaces him, then the pace attack would look absolutely exemplary, but if RR brings in Miller, then they’ll have to go for an Indian option in Ankit Rajpoot or one of the youngsters, Kartik Tyagi or Akash Singh. All 3 are promising, but probably not ready to be a part of an elite IPL attack. Lets hope that they aren’t forced to make that decision.

Prediction – Overall, the team does look impressive. I know I’m supposed to be unbiased, but I am an RR fan so of course I want them to make the playoffs! And I’m sure that with a little help from Fortuna, they can accomplish that with ease. However, winning the competition seems just a little unlikely… I do hope I’m wrong here though!!!

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