"I think if you look at the whole season, we have gone through many challenges. We showed character though and am proud of the boys. We won some close games and lost some easy ones. We need to play a better standard of cricket to win more games in this tournament. I would have loved to win more games despite scoring a lot of runs."
Rajasthan Royals skipper Sanju Samson summed up his team’s Indian Premier League 2021 campaign neatly after they were dismantled by Kolkata Knight Riders in their final league game on Thursday (October 7). A season that started with a heartbreaking four-run defeat against Punjab Kings ended with a proper 86-run thumping against Kolkata. Samson had his best IPL season with the bat but even then RR could only win five of their 14 games and finished second last on the points table. Rajasthan were without some of their key players but still managed to stay alive, mathematically, till the very end. There were three-four players who stood out but RR never looked formidable as a unit.
Rajasthan were without their ace opener Jos Buttler in the second half and got Evin Lewis as his replacement. The left-handed opener from West Indies featured in only five games but slammed 151 runs at a strike rate of 162.36. Yashasvi Jaiswal, who didn’t do much in the first half, made a solid impact in the UAE leg and formed a dangerous opening partnership with Lewis. Amongst opening pairs who scored at least 100 runs in IPL 2021, Lewis and Jaiswal had the best strike rate. They were at their best against Chennai Super Kings as the two put on 77 runs in 5.2 overs to help Rajasthan chase down a target of 190 in just 17.3 overs. Meanwhile, the other four RR opening pairs averaged just 18.6 and scored at a strike rate of 111.3 in nine innings.
Samson has always struggled with consistency but the Rajasthan skipper didn’t disappoint this season. The stylish right-hander amassed 484 runs in 14 innings at an average of 40.33 and a strike rate of 136.72. This is the most runs Samson has scored in a single edition. The 26-year-old managed six 40-plus scores and even hammered a century against Punjab in Mumbai. Samson clobbered 12 fours and seven sixes in his 63-ball 119 and almost helped RR chase down a target of 222. The franchise will now look to build a team around him for next season.
What didn’t work?
One of the main reasons why Rajasthan didn’t do well in IPL 2021 was because of their mediocre bowling unit. The likes of Chetan Sakariya (8.19), Mustafizur Rahman (8.41), Kartik Tyagi (8.85), Chris Morris (9.17), Rahul Tewatia (9.18) and Shreyas Gopal (12) all operated at an economy of more than eight. Mahipal Lomror (6.71 in four games) and Jaydev Unadkat (7.63 in six games) were the only bowlers with an economy of less than eight. The Royals had the worst bowling average, economy rate, and balls per boundary ratio this season. Despite being expensive, Rajasthan’s seamers picked up enough wickets, but their spinners were horrendous. They only took 10 wickets in 64.1 overs at an average of 60.4 and also leaked runs at 9.4.
Also, the middle-order batters hardly turned up as the top-three had to do the majority of the scoring throughout the tournament. Rajasthan middle-order (4-7) had the second-worst scoring rate (6.8) after Sunrisers Hyderabad and the third-worst batting average (19.1) in the competition. The likes of Shivam Dube, Lomror, Tewatia, David Miller, Riyan Parag, and Glenn Phillips all failed to do the job. Rajasthan will need a couple of reliable middle-order batters in the next auction if they want to perform better in IPL 2022.
Jaiswal didn’t have a phenomenal tournament but he did manage to make an impact in a couple of encounters. The left-hander from Mumbai scored 249 runs in 10 innings at a strike rate of 148.21 and showed flashes of brilliance in the second leg of the competition. The 19-year-old got three scores of over 30 in the first four games of the second leg but it was his knock against Chennai where Jaiswal displayed his true potential. The young opener smoked 50 off just 21 deliveries - the second-fastest fifty for an uncapped player in IPL. He ended the season with a three-ball duck but Jaiswal would surely be in high demand if RR fail to retain him ahead of the next auction.
The Royals acquired Morris for a record price of INR 16.25 crore - the highest-ever bid in the IPL history - but the South African all-rounder failed to live up to the billing. The 34-year-old had a decent first half, picking up 14 wickets in seven matches at a strike rate of 11.1, but also leaked runs at an economy of 8.6. Morris also played a match-winning cameo (18-ball 36*) against Delhi Capitals, but things went downhill in the second half when Rajasthan needed him the most. The right-arm paceman featured in only four games and conceded 152 runs in 15 overs for just one wicket. The team management even dropped him for two games.
"There were so high expectations of him when Rajasthan picked him and I know it’s always not possible to live up to the high expectations. He is just the kind of cricketer who has always had the promise but very seldom has delivered in his entire cricketing career. It is not just about this IPL. Maybe there are fitness or temperament issues because often you have the talent but not the temperament and that doesn't help you," Sunil Gavaskar told Star Sports.
Rajasthan would also be disappointed with the way Tewatia and Liam Livingstone performed in this edition. Tewatia, who had a memorable last season, was very mediocre in IPL 2021. The spin-bowling allrounder only scored 155 runs in 14 games and picked up just eight wickets at an average of 42.5. Meanwhile, Livingstone had a stellar home season but could only manage 42 runs in five innings in the second leg of IPL 2021. Just like Morris, Livingstone too was left out for two matches.
Players who could be retained
Sanju Samson, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Chetan Sakariya, Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler.
The BCCI is yet to offer a clarification on how many players a franchise can retain ahead of the next auction and Rajasthan would be eager to retain at least three to four of their current players. The Royals are most likely going to stick with Samson as their skipper and could also keep Jaiswal who showed a lot of promise in the second leg. made his IPL debut this year but bowled with great maturity. The left-arm seamer featured in all 14 encounters and picked up 14 wickets at a strike rate of 22.2. Sakariya was so impressive in the first half that he even ended up representing India in one ODI and two T20Is during their tour of Sri Lanka.
Rajasthan would also be interested in the world-class trio of Archer, Stokes and Buttler. Archer didn’t feature in the entire tournament, while Stokes got injured after playing just one game in the first half. Meanwhile, Buttler made himself unavailable for the second half. The Royals surely missed their presence and it won’t come as a huge surprise if they decide to keep all three of them for the next season, via retentions or RTM cards.
(* All stats till October 7, 2021)