IPL 2023, Rajasthan Royals Preview | Sanju Samson & Co. look ready to seek the lost crown

IPL 2023, Rajasthan Royals Preview | Sanju Samson & Co. look ready to seek the lost crown

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Save for winning the inaugural title, Rajasthan Royals made little impact in IPL until last year. Unlike their traditional formula of breeding youngsters with a few firecrackers, they now have a plethora of superstars in every corner, making them arguably the strongest squad on paper.

Since the IPL’s inception, Rajasthan Royals have always had prodigious talents. To name a few, Ajinkya Rahane, Siddharth Trivedi, Ravindra Jadeja, Rahul Tewatia, Sanju Samson, Yashasvi Jaiswal, and Riyan Parag all had or are still having their early days there, and many of them have joined others after utilizing golden opportunities. However, except for the first season, where they lifted the trophy under the captaincy of the ‘First Royal’ Shane Warne, they never combined to create many fond memories.

Above all, the most daunting phase that the Royals endured was between 2018 and 2021, when they ended the league phase second-last twice and languished at the bottom once. They then realized that they needed to accomplish something to turn the tide, and the Jake Lush McCrum-led think tank decided to focus on proven campaigners predominantly ahead of promising youngsters before heading for the IPL 2022 mega auction.

During the bidding wars, the Royals hit the jackpot by signing Yuzvendra Chahal for ₹6.5 Crores and Ravichandran Ashwin for ₹5 Crores. To join them, they acquired the services of Trent Boult and Shimron Hetmyer, who had established their credibility by having clear plans for every situation. The Royals have found leaders in them alongside Sanju Samson and Jos Buttler, who were the retainers in company with the uncapped Yashasvi Jaiswal.

After three successive disappointing seasons, the Royals finally seemed to take the game seriously in IPL 2022 with the new yet reputable arrivals. To give the late Warne a fitting tribute, Sanju Samson and Co. did little wrong throughout the tournament. However, an unexpectedly poor performance in the summit clash led them to receive the runners-up medals after Gujarat Titans outclassed them in all parts of the game. But the way they ticked all the boxes through the entire season was nothing short of worth remembering.

Going back to the beginning of IPL 2022, Jos Buttler, who smashed three centuries and two half-centuries in the first seven outings, set the tone for the Royals in the Powerplay. Led by the English captain, they made full use of the field restrictions to score an average of 49.14 runs, the third-best after Punjab Kings (55.21) and Delhi Capitals (54.14). Simultaneously, their loss of just 1.07 wickets during the first six overs was the finest among all. In fact, their average team total of 176 – the best in the tournament – indicates how relentless they had been with the willow in hand. Buttler, coupled with Samson, Jaiswal, Hetmyer, and Devdutt Padikkal and their fluid strokeplay, ensured they finished the season with an average third-best score (74.36) in the middle overs (7-15) and second-best score (52.5) in the death overs (16-20).

The Royals’ idea of employing Hetmyer at No. 5 was a masterstroke. The West Indies’ southpaw was underused at Delhi Capitals until IPL 2021 but was instrumental in the Royals’ run galore, having aggregated 314 runs in 15 matches at a blistering 153.92 strike rate.

While many had considered the Royals’ acquisitions of Chahal and Ashwin at a reasonable price as steals and the signing of Trent Boult at ₹8 crores as clever business, roping in Prasidh Krishna at ₹10 crores raised many eyebrows. However, the lanky right arm quick silenced the critics by snaring 19 scalps, eight fewer than Yuzvendra Chahal, who won the Purple Cap after tallying 27 wickets at a strike rate of 15.1. He, paired up with Boult, who had 16 wickets wreaking havoc early, and rewarded them with breaking the opening-wicket stand at an average of only 17.14 runs, more than ten runs fewer than second-ranked Delhi Capitals (27.60). Besides, the average score of 43 inside the Powerplay against them was the least conceded runs by any team.

More significantly, the Royals’ record of picking up 6.43 wickets per match in IPL 2022 was the best among all ten franchises. Chahal, Boult, and Krishna received the support they required from Ashwin, Obed McCoy, and Kuldeep Sen, leading them to form the most formidable bowling attack. However, this time, the Royals will miss the services of Krishna, who will be unavailable for the entire forthcoming season due to a stress fracture. McCoy, too, is likely to miss out on the tournament due to a knee injury.

The only stats which might upset the Royals fans are that they conceded the third-worst average runs (75.57) and took the joint-worst average wickets (2.29) in the middle overs. But, in their defence, it was not that bad, given Chahal, their workforce's leader, is a bowler with an aggressive mindset and tends to leak runs to trap the opposition's batters.

Although the Royals implemented the old-school formula of six designated batters and five designated bowlers in IPL 2022, they badly missed an out-and-out all-rounder who could be handy with the bat and could also chip in with regular breakthroughs. With the signing of Jason Holder from the recent auction, they have got their sought-after man. The West Indian can be clinical with the Powerplay as well as in the death overs, which should work like magic in Krishna’s absence, and he, being a No. 7 batter, will also reduce the burden from Ashwin’s shoulders, who had to bat at different positions last time mainly due to finding a perfect balance.

Safe to say, the Royals have almost all bases covered, and the newly launched ‘Impact Player’ rule will only make them even better. If they bat first, they can use Parag as a batter and replace him with Sen to have the luxury of an additional bowling option. Of course, the vice-versa can take place if they bat second.

Meanwhile, Navdeep Saini, who injured his head in IPL 2022 after taking three wickets in the opening two matches, should get a nod in the playing XI ahead of Sen, especially after the former’s successful Syed Mushtaq Ali campaign, where he picked ten wickets in eight matches for Delhi.

Thanks to their almost settled line-up, the Royals are one of the few franchises that do not need to experiment with various combinations. They all lived up to the potential last year until they failed to surpass the final hurdle. This time, with the tournament set to return to its earlier home-and-away format in India, they look even stronger all around, mainly because they have numerous veterans who can single-handedly change the fortune in their favour in any given conditions. Therefore, there is no denying that the Royals are the title contenders and have a high possibility of breaking their 15-year-long title drought this year.

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