IPL 2020 was a year to forget for the Rajasthan Royals as they finished bottom of the table. Here we preview how their actions during the 2021 close season, including breaking the record for the most expense player at auction and the sacking of a 2nd captain in as many years might influence their chances this year.
Rajasthan Royals Team Preview IPL 2021 – Batting
The biggest criticism of Rajasthan’s batting line-up over the last few seasons is that they’ve been very top heavy. It’s no suprise that in the T20 game the vast majority of batsmen want to bat in the top 3 where the powerplay and opportunities to face more deliveries make run scoring that much easier. However, that needs to be offset by a middle and lower order than can accelerate at the back end of an innings too. It’s difficult to remember the last team to win the IPL who didn’t have that balance.
With the departure of the likes of Steve Smith, Rahul Tripathi and Ajinke Rahane over the last couple of seasons you could actually now argue that Rajasthan have gone in the opposite direction and their top-order options for IPL 2021 are limited.
Last season saw a reasonable amount of chopping and changing as the Royals sort the right combinations but it seems likely that this year we’ll see a top 3 of Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and newly named captain Sanju Samson. On paper, that is a strong top order but once again in terms of experience and quality it does feel like Rajasthan are throwing all their eggs into that top order basket once again.
They do have some talented young options on the bench including Yashasvi Jaiswal who has been involved with the national team in U-19 and U-23 fixtures and who played a handful of games in last seasons tournament. Still at the tender age of 19, it’d be a massive step up for Jaiswal to be given the responsibility of opening on a regular basis in this season’s IPL.
Alternatively, they could look to give Manan Vohra a shot at the top of the order. The Chandigarh captain is coming off the back of a decent white ball season and has plenty of IPL experience from his time at RCB and KXIP despite being unable to break into the Royals side which he has been a part of for a couple of years. With the aforementioned players now out of the way this looks like his best opportunity for game time.
The other less likely option would be to give Liam Livingstone a go at the top of the order. While Livingstone is a destructive opener in T20 cricket, playing him alongside Buttler and Stokes would see RR having used 3 out of their 4 overseas slots before we even reach the middle order. A similar problem in that regard comes with David Miller who was once one of the most feared T20 batsmen in world cricket but who over the last couple of years has increasingly struggled to assert himself on a regular basis. Both these men look like back-up options for the Royals first choice overseas picks.
The middle order then will likely be stacked with youngsters and all-rounders. Chief amongst these will be 19-year-old Riyan Parag who despite his tender years has already been heavily involved in the last couple of seasons of IPL cricket. Certainly a player to watch in the future, Parag has already taken over the captaincy of Assam in T20 cricket and the responsibility seems to have suited him well as he hit 261 runs in the Syed Musthaq Ali Trophy at an average of 87, the best of any batsmen to have played 5 or more innings in the competition.
21-year-old local lad Mahipal Lomror is another option and again despite his relative youth he is hardly unknown at this level having made his IPL debut back in 2018. From bit part player to established performer in the space of 6 months feels like a big step but Rajasthan Royals do have form over the years for unearthing diamonds from the rough and they’ll be reliant on that happening again in this year’s tournament.
Lower down, the acquisition of Shivam Dube fills the role of finisher that was sorely missing from each of the last couple of campaigns particularly now that Buttler has moved up the order. Dube continues to put up impressive numbers in domestic T20 cricket and perhaps the lower profile move to Rajasthan following a couple of disappointing years at RCB will do him good. The fact that he has been capped 14 times by India in white ball cricket over the last couple of years shows that there is definitely talent to work with and he might well get some opportunities higher up the order with his new franchise.
Rajasthan Royals Team Preview IPL 2021 – Bowling
We’ve already covered a few bowling options when speaking about Stokes, Pirag, Dube and Lomror but you’d imagine that all 4 will be primarily playing as batsmen. Still, it leaves Sanju Samson will a smorgasbord board of potential bowlers to choose from.
The big blow and a story that is breaking as I type this article is the likely loss of Jofra Archer who has been asked by the ECB to return home to receive treatment on an elbow injury that has troubled him over the past 12months. Archer was the MVP in last year’s IPL and losing him will be a massive blow to Rajasthan’s hopes of a playoff place in IPL 2021.
Archer was unstoppable in IPL 2020 and showed again in the recent T20 series against India that he is a genuine threat particularly in the powerplay. Rajasthan’s problem in IPL 2020 was that they didn’t have the bowlers to follow up on Archer’s new ball bowling. With the acquisition of Chris Morris and Mustafizur Rahman plus the return to form and fitness of Andrew Tye that issue seemed to have been solved so the news that Archer will not be available for the first part of IPL 2021 leaves them once again lopsided albeit in the other direction.
With penetration now a problem for RR at least in the early stages of IPL 2021, the responsibility could once again fall on some very young shoulders in the form of Kartik Tyagi and Chetan Sakariya. Tyagi debuted last year and has since gone onto play for India U-19s on their tour of Australia. There is undoubtedly talent and pace to work with there but Tyagi is still very raw. Meanwhile left-armer Chetan Sakariya took 12 wickets in this season’s Syed Musthaq Ali competition, including 5/11. He finished the tournament with the best economy rate, 4.90, of any seamer (min 10 overs) and the best average 8.16 (min 7 wickets) and is certainly another youngster to watch for RR in IPL 2021.
With the left-arm Jaydev Unadkat also available, the Royals looked like they were set to have a fast bowling attack that could rival the very best in the IPL with variation and choices abound. Experienced pros like Unadkat, Morris and Tye will need to step-up to fill the void left until Archer hopefully returns. Can RR still be in the hunt when their star man becomes available?
In the spin department, Rajasthan Royals are certainly not short of wrist spinners with Rahul Tewatia who is also likely to bat at number 7 and Shreyas Gopal joined by Mayank Markande who burst onto the scence a couple of years ago with Mumbai Indians to the extent that he was handed a cap by his nationals team. A loss of form and the emergence of Rahul Chahar limited his time at MI and he’ll hope to reignite his career wearing the pink of Rajasthan.
However, there is a noticable lack of finger spinning options for Rajasthan with only the slow left-armers of Lomror at Samson’s disposal. As we’ll see now with the way RR’s fixtures have fallen that gap may not be felt quite as significantly as it might have been but it still represents something of an oversight on the recruitment front.
Rajasthan Royals Team Preview IPL 2021 – Venues and Fixtures
The loss of Archer is even more pronounced when you consider that Rajasthan Royals begin their 2021 IPL campaign with 5 matches on a Wankhede pitch that would almost certainly have favoured his pace and bounce. The fact that Archer has combined figures of 5/55 from the 2 games he’s played there in the past suggests he would have been a real handful! Still Andrew Tye and Ben Stokes records at a venue that tends to suit overseas quicks are also impressive and wrist spinners also tend to favour bouncier tracks
Rajasthan then move onto play 4 games at the Arun Jaitley stadium in Delhi. My concern here would be that lack of experience in the middle order on a wicket that will probably be slower and at times required careful accumulation may come back to bite them.
3 matches at Eden Garden, Kolkata then follow and you’d have thought with the fast bowling options that Rajasthan have, they could be a difficult side to beat on this pitch as evidenced by their respective records below.
The final 2 matches take place in Bangalore and it’s surprising to see that some of the bigger hitting batsmen including Stokes and Buttler have fairly average records at this grounds. Again, it could be that lack of experience and quality that costs them here. As we’ve seen in previous team previews, late order hitters of often enjoy themselves at altitude so the likes of Dube and Tewatia will need to take the lead in that respect in matching opposition players like Nicolas Pooran and Andre Russell.