Rajasthan Royals have been a perennial underdog in the IPL and their lack of foresight has left them with no choice than retaining only one player – Steve Smith. However, the team will have the chance to redeem themselves if they can intelligently spend their huge purse of 59 crores at the auction.
During their eight years of history in the IPL, unlike Chennai, who had built a team of superstars, Royals followed exactly the opposite model by going for players who were not big names but who could potentially have a big game. With Rahul Dravid at the helm, they had planned things better, but they don’t have that luxury this time around as the former Indian skipper will not be a part of any IPL team due to BCCI’s conflict of interest clause.
However, it is all down to the franchise now as after deciding to retain only Steve Smith, they have now a huge purse of 59 crores available to spend at the auction. Now, to make an impact in the league as well as making a brand new fan-base, the Jaipur-based franchise will have to chalk out a strategy – go for players who can be impactful on the field and can also attract a huge fan base.
Bringing Ajinkya Rahane from Mumbai Indians to Rajasthan Royals was Dravid's decision and was executed to perfection by the franchise. Despite his problems with strike rotation in the middle overs and the apparent inability to play spinners well, the Indian Test vice-captain has been a lethal option in the shortest version of the game. In the away series against the Windies and Sri Lanka, the Mumbaikar confirmed that status and was adjudged man of the series in both the tours. Again, a franchise that look forward to a bigger name as the star power, Rahane can give them the much-needed X-factor.
For a franchise that traditionally depends on youngsters, Mayank Agarwal can be an option the team can go for. The Karnataka opener has scored 1160 runs in the Ranji Trophy season with five centuries and two fifties. The team can also go
Another player who can keep Royals interested is Jos Buttler. The England keeper has made a name for himself as England’s first global Twenty20 superstar and his impact on the limited-overs side has been extraordinary. He can strike the ball cleanly and to go with all his leather clubbing, he can offer wicket-keeping service is a double whammy. He was one of the architects in Mumbai Indians’ run to the third title last year, and given the chances of Mumbai using their RTM card on slim, the Royals can break the bank to get his signature on the dotted line.
The team can also be tempted to sign Kedar Jadhav, who has been a vastly improved player since the last IPL and can provide a handy off-spinning option for the team. Manish Pandey, who has been released by the Kolkata franchise, will not be a bad option to go for as well.
There might be a case that Rajasthan will decide to go back to Sanju Samson, who after three years of disastrous performance in the Ranji Trophy, has come to his own and scored a handy 627 runs at an average of 52.25 this season. He was the highest run-scorer for Kerala and was the backbone of the batting line-up which registered five outright wins in six games to reach the quarter-finals. The wicket-keeper has also hit a splendid century for Delhi Daredevils last year and going by the recent form, expect quite a bid for him.
Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood were the two of the main architects in Australia’s Ashes victory and Cummins' innate x-factor of bowling with heavy pace could help any IPL franchise. He played for Daredevils last season and snapped 15 wickets from 12 matches at an average of 24.86. Hazlewood, on the other hand, was bought by Mumbai Indians in 2015, but yet to make his debut in the league. While Mitchell Starc is also available for the auction, if the franchise will be able to snap one of the duo – especially Cummins – or Starc, they will be in very good stead.
If the team fails to secure the services of any one of the above players, they still can go for Kiwi pacer Mitchell McClenaghan who retired from international cricket to focus on his T20 career. The former Mumbai Indians pacer has taken 54 wickets from 40 matches at an average of 24.61 and can be a lethal asset for any team in the league.
With spinners like Kuldeep Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Ravichandran Ashwin available for bidding, it will surely be an option for the franchise to get one of them possible to extract purchase from the Sawai Mansingh Stadium. As far as uncapped players are concerned, Aditya Sarwate and Akshay Wakhare give them good options while Saurashtra spinner Dharmendrasinh Jadeja who picked up 34 wickets at an average of 26 will keep the franchise interested.
They should be zeroed in with Marcus Stonis unless and until Kings XI Punjab apply their RTM card to snap him out again. Otherwise, Stonis provides a very good option – both as a batsman and a useful bowler – and on his day, he can easily be a match-winner.
Among Indian options, Deepak Hooda in the last season of the IPL was one of the lynchpins for the Sunrisers Hyderabad and continued his sublime performance in the Ranji Trophy as well. While Hyderabad may well be tempted to sign the all-rounder once again, Royals can easily for him to form a strong Indian core. While they can still go for Krunal Pandya, it seems highly unlikely that Mumbai will not use RTM card on him. In that case, the team can go for either of Chris Woakes or Yusuf Pathan to form the team.