After last year’s mega auction, a lot of experts and armchair critics felt that Rajasthan Royals had a lopsided squad with no batting or bowling depth. Their construction was such that their best XI would have six batters and five bowlers. Nothing more, nothing less.
RR proved the best of these experts wrong by not just qualifying to the playoffs, but also going through to the finals. Jos Buttler’s orange cap and Yuzvendra Chahal’s purple cap performances made up for the lack of options, more often than not. However, their lack of depth came to bite them when it mattered the most, the IPL finals.
Have they upgraded from last season?
Not really. Despite the glaring holes, they were happy placing a 13 Cr. bid for Harry Brook. They did get Jason Holder, who had a fairly underwhelming IPL 2022 with bat and ball. He’ll be expected to deliver overs with the ball and bat at #7, and do this game after game. With Riyan Parag being their sixth and last bowling option and R Ashwin being the only batter below him, looks like they will again be depending on individual brilliance to help them reach the playoffs.
Jason Holder with the bat in IPL 2022: R – 58, SR – 131.8, Avg. – 9.7, Boundaries/Balls: 18.1%
Jason Holder with the ball in IPL 2022: W – 14, RR – 9.4, Avg. – 27.9, Balls/Wicket: 17.8
Prasidh being ruled out of the tournament makes it even more difficult as Kuldeep Sen, his likely replacement, predominantly plies his trade in the middle and death overs. In which case, we can expect Holder to partner with Boult at the top.
What needs to change for them?
The way they dealt with the middle-overs and death-overs was a reflection of their lack of depth. The batters had to ensure they played the middle-overs out without too many casualties. Also, Devdutt Padikkal’s weaknesses against high pace and hard lengths notwithstanding, he was still slotted out of position in the middle-order. Sanju Samson and Shimron Hetmyer were the only batters comfortable tackling hard lengths, and teams exploited this weakness. They faced the most overs of pace between the 7th and 16th over, amongst all teams. And boy did they struggle.
Given their lack of proven backup options, they would be forced to persist with Devdutt Padikkal, and would want the youngster to be better equipped to address this, in the upcoming season.
Riyan Parag in IPL 2022: R – 183, SR – 138.6, Avg. – 16.6, Boundaries/Balls: 15.9%
Not the kind of returns you would be expecting from someone who is being groomed as your finisher. Kumar Sangakkara did confirm during the post-match press conference after last season’s finals that we would see Riyan Parag being promoted up the order in IPL 2023. He has been a part of the pink team’s setup for four years now, and the management will be hoping that this is the season where they see their investment yield some returns.
In the middle-overs, Chahal went on a wicket-taking spree. But, the perils of not having depth hurt them here as well. Add Ashwin's dwindling returns and their fifth-bowler-conundrum to that, and you can see why the Royals were the worst wicket-taking team in this phase. Their fifth bowling option leaked runs at 9.44 RPO and took a wicket every 31 balls.
Ashwin might have had his best season with the bat, but the ball has been more of a foe in the recent past. In spite of playing in relatively spin friendly conditions in the last couple of years, he’s hardly been penetrative with the ball in hand. Batters have milked him for runs without breaking a sweat. Knowing how central he is to Sanga’s plans, he’ll need to have a good season with the ball to give Rajasthan a fighting chance for the playoffs.
What will win them the title?
A packed top-order meant that their powerplay scoring was always on the higher side, and they did that without losing too many wickets. Yashasvi Jaisawal, who has had a fantastic domestic season, will join the ever-dependable Jos Buttler, and the duo should continue to be a nightmare for opposition new ball bowlers.
With the ball in hand, as expected, Prasidh Krishna and Trent Boult were a handful in the powerplay. The duo complimented each other not just by hand, but also skillset. Prasidh hit hard lengths consistently and surprised batters with the extra bounce, while Boult constantly attacked fuller lengths and troubled batters with swing.
If the news of Sandeep Sharma's signing as Krishna's replacement is true, his arrival would go a long way in strengthening their bowling attack. Sandeep Sharma can move the ball prodigiously and could form a lethal duo with Trent Boult. Post his new ball spell, he can be subbed out for Kuldeep Sen, who has proved in the previous season that he has the goods to deliver in the final four at this level.
Home and Away
Historically, Sawai Mansingh Stadium (SMS) has been a middling surface. There’s been a bit of help for batters and bowlers. The average score here ranges between 150-155 and the new ball doesn’t move here long enough. Parity between bat and ball would leave very little in terms of home advantage for Samson’s men to exploit.
On the other hand, this lineup would be a mixed bag at other venues. At true surfaces like the ones seen in Bangalore/Kolkata/Mumbai, the first six would be their best bet at breaking the game open, in both departments. But, slow surfaces would have their middle-order's flaws negated and also bring their superior spin attack into the game.
Of all teams, this RR squad is best suited to use an Impact Player. But, the lack of backup options makes it a slippery slope. You can read more about it here.
RR’s best XI will also require Jason Holder to be at his best. Chahal’s waning form, lack of backup options, and the overdependence on their specialists to perform every game seems like a recipe for disaster. But what do we know? They’ve proven us wrong once, and there’s nothing stopping them from doing it a second time.
*While not confirmed yet, news from the RR camp is that they have signed Sandeep Sharma as Prasidh Krishna's replacement.