Mediocre but with flashes of brilliance. This is how Australian coach Justin Langer described Marcus Harris ahead of his Test debut in December 2018. The description sits well with Rajasthan Royals. They won the inaugural edition and then took five years to book their next Top 4 spot. They were in the Top 4 again in 2018 before occupying the seventh and the eighth spot in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
Their aggressive yet judicious approach in the 2021 auction hinted at a supreme season but they could not string two wins together. Their performance fluctuated between conceding a 10-wicket defeat to beating the Delhi Capitals, the number one team on the points table currently.
On the points table, Rajasthan currently stand at fifth. Those flashes of brilliance present them their best chance to get a Playoff spot amongst sides in the bottom half of the points table at present. With a new look side, they will need to begin their charge as soon as the season resumes in the UAE.
From being the most expensive pace unit in the 2020 season, Rajasthan turned themselves into the most efficient pace attack in 2021. It is remarkable because they have done it without their talisman pacer, Jofra Archer. Their economy of 8.2 runs per over is the best this year, despite playing in Mumbai and Delhi, two of the most high-scoring venues in the first half of this season. The average of 24.9 is second only to Bangalore’s 23.6.
Chris Morris, Mustafizur Rahman and Chetan Sakariya have been at the helm of this turnaround. Morris is the joint second-highest wicket-taker in the season, 14. Sakariya and Rahman are fifth and sixth on the economy-rate table amongst the 14 pacers to have bowled over 25 overs in the season - 8.2 and 8.3 respectively. Those above him - Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Siraj, Avesh Khan and Mohammad Shami - have had the fortune of playing in the low-scoring venue in Chennai.
On a brighter side, their skipper Sanju Samson looks keen to smash the ‘one-innings player’ label this season. Known to fade away after one big knock, his last three innings in the season read an impactful 48, 42 and 42. Samson is the only Indian batsman in Rajasthan’s armory with a taste of international cricket. Hence, his success is intertwined with Rajasthan’s chances.
There are a couple of threats that can hamper Rajasthan’s prospects. One of them is their opening stand which has not been up to the mark. Their openers average 24.1, second-lowest this season. Also, the number is skewed by Jos Buttler’s 124 against Sunrisers Hyderabad. Rajasthan tried three opening pairs, pairing Buttler with Yashaswi Jaiswal, Manan Vohra and Ben Stokes. Now, Buttler himself is not available.
In a similar vein but on a severe note, Rajasthan have been abysmal in the spin bowling department. Only three wickets at 107.7 runs apiece alongside an economy of 10.4 tells the tale. Club these figures with the numbers of the last edition and they still are the worst by a margin. Shreyas Gopal has been off color while Rahul Tewatia and Riyan Parag are not as penetrative as required at this level.
Various reasons forced Rajasthan to make as many as five personnel changes, the second-most ahead of the season resumption. Playing without their England stars, Rajasthan Royals is a completely different side to what we are used to witnessing since 2018. However, a majority of these signings have been top-notch and well thought after.
Glenn Phillips and Evin Lewis are the best possible answers to Buttler’s absence. Tabraiz Shamsi is the number one bowler in the T20I rankings, again the best replacement available to resolve their spin bowling conundrums. Oshane Thomas, returning to the franchise, will be a back-up option for Morris and Rahman.
How do they feel about UAE
At the moment, Rajasthan don’t have anything to lose or gain out of the tournament shifting to the UAE. They were wooden spoon holders last year but won six matches. They would feel they have the resources to tackle whatever the gulf country offers in terms of the conditions. However, they would like the pitches to be like the previous season - flat and aiding pacers to assist their streamline of strokemaking batsmen.
As mentioned above, Rajasthan have the best chance to cause an upset and sneak into the Top 4. The current state of the points table indicates that they will need five wins in their remaining seven fixtures. For that, they will need to set the ball rolling before it becomes a must-win situation for every game. Our Criclytics Qualification Probability meter reckons they have a 25 percent chance of making it to the Top 4. If they can convert it, the second half will be interesting.
Best Possible XI
It is tough to come up with the best possible combination for Rajasthan. They have a number of options for every slot - Evin Lewis or Glenn Phillips as one of the two openers, Liam Livingstone or David Miller in the middle-order, Mustafizur Rahman or Tabraiz Shamsi for the second overseas bowling spot. The last of these will depend on the conditions. They can also opt to pick three out of Lewis, Phillips, Livingstone and Miller while playing only Morris as the overseas recruit in the bowling department. That will be a case of going for the kill with the bat but will weaken their bowling resources. It will be interesting to see what combination they field to begin the second leg.