Rajasthan Royals started their IPL journey in 2008 as an underdog who went on to lift the trophy. Every year since then, the notion of them being an underdog has remained intact. Hence, they have been a fancy of cricket lovers who enjoy the victory of David over Goliath.
Even after being a title-winning franchise, they have managed to end in the top-four in four of the ten seasons they were a part of. A record that is better than only two other franchises – KXIP and DC.
With no big Indian name in the mix over the years, their reliance on foreign players is higher as compared to other teams. With a quartet of Jos Buttler, Steve Smith, Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer in the team, they have the best set of foreign players on paper. But, they will need assistance from rookie Indian players – similar to 2008 – if they are to improve their IPL record.
Since the last IPL in 2019, Stokes has grown in stature as a cricketer. Currently in the form of his life, he can drive Royals’ fortune in all three aspects of the game. However, he is unavailable for the first few matches and there is an uncertainty over his participation in the entire tournament. His absence will be a substantial blow for the Royals.
Batting in Powerplay
With both bat and ball, the phase that Royals enjoy the most is the powerplay overs. Since 2018, Royals’ biggest strength has been their powerplay batting. They bat at a pace better than other teams while keeping their wickets intact.
Their run-rate of 8.59 in this phase is the highest among all teams. Another indicator of their strength in this phase is a balls per wicket record of 32.1, next only to SRH.
Their success in this phase in the last two seasons is on the back of Buttler. His strike-rate of 166.8 in overs 1-6 since 2018 is second-best after Narine (190.1) among players with more than one innings. But with an average of 100.5 as compared to Narine’s 25.1, Buttler is in a league of his own.
Whenever given a chance, Rahul Tripathi too did a decent job by batting at a strike-rate of above 140 in the powerplay. It is tough to understand his release from the team ahead of this season.
Bowling in Powerplay
Like batting, their performance with the ball in the first six overs has been impressive. Their balls per wicket record of 23.1 is better than all other teams except CSK. Their economy rate of 8.3 puts them in the top-4 on this front as well.
With the new ball, Archer’s economy of 6.2 in the powerplay since 2018 helped the team’s numbers. However, taking wickets in this phase has been a collective effort of all bowlers. Dhawal Kulkarni and Krishnappa Gowtham, who bowled the most overs for them in this phase since 2018, are not part of the team anymore. Being a batting all-rounder, Gowtham lost out because of his batting average of 12 since 2018.
Areas of Improvement
Batting in Overs 7-20
With the bat, their performance derails as soon as the powerplay ends. Since 2018, from the seventh over onwards, they lag as compared to other teams on important batting parameters.
They score at 8.24 runs per over after powerplay - the lowest among all teams. A factor contributing to this is a balls per wicket record of 17.4 in this phase, also the lowest. Losing wickets at regular intervals might be a reason for them not to get the acceleration required. As a result, they also have the lowest batting average (23.9) and balls per boundary (7) record in this phase as compared to other teams.
The biggest let down for them in the past two seasons was the performance of Ben Stokes. In 2017, he was the player of the tournament while playing for Rising Pune Supergiants. Since Royals nipped him for 12.5 crores in 2018, his average with the bat in 22 innings is 17.7. A strike-rate 122.7 is also not a happy reading.
Another consideration is Steve Smith’s absence in the 2018 season as he was serving the 12-month ban. In 2019, though he averaged a high 39.9 in 2019, his strike-rate of 116 will not put him among T20 elites.
Bowling in Middle Overs
With the ball, their biggest struggle is keeping the runs down in middle-overs (7-15). Since 2018, their economy rate in this phase is 8.3, higher than all teams except KKR (8.6). Similar to how losing wickets after powerplay affects their batting, not taking enough wickets in this period affects their bowling. In overs 7-15, their balls per wicket record 25.9 is worse than all teams except KXIP (28.8).
Since 2018, in the matches Royals have won, they have bowled 6.1 fewer deliveries to pick a wicket compared to matches they have lost - the highest difference among all teams. This signifies the impact of taking wickets in this period on an eventual victory.
Apart from Shreyas Gopal, no other bowler has been able to create an impact in this phase. Since 2018, in 22 and 15 innings respectively, Jaydev Unadkat and Stokes have 4 and 3 wickets between them in the middle-overs.
Unadkat had a stellar season in 2017 when he took 24 wickets in the season while playing for the Supergiants. As a result, the Royals spent 11.5 crores on him in the auction for the 2018 season. Since then, they have released and rebought him twice, at a reduced price but still in multiple crores. With 21 wickets in 26 innings in the last two seasons at an economy of 10.1, Unadkat has not been a profitable investment. However, with most Indian pacers retained by their franchises, the Royals did not have much to choose from.
Prospects for 2020
Yet again the fortunes of the Royals lie in the performances of their overseas player. Taking the baton from Ajinkya Rahane in the middle of the last season, Smith will be leading the side in the complete tournament. The last time when Smith captained an IPL team, they played the final in 2017.
This season can be crucial for Sanju Samson who will be looking to be a regular in the Indian team now after MS Dhoni is no longer around. In the last two seasons, Samson has struggled with consistency. He has a big score of 92 and 102 against his name in the each of the two seasons, but outside these, he has only five 40+ scores in the remaining 25 innings.
To solve the issue of bowling in the middle-overs, Mayank Markande is a welcome addition in this season. Now that the tournament is in UAE, the inclusion of Tom Curran as a reserve pacer seems a lucky break. Capable of using his variations to good effect, Curran’s bowling will be a useful resource along with his ability with the bat down the order.
Apart from the established names, Royals have three young exciting prospects in the team. The one expected to grab eyeballs is the 19-year old Yashasvi Jaiswal who was the man of the tournament in the latest edition of the Under-19 World Cup. With Rahane and Tripathi no longer around, Jaiswal will get a chance to carry Royals’ stellar run in the powerplay forward with Buttler.
After gathering attention in 2019 after three 40+ scores in five innings, Riyan Parag will have to shoulder the responsibility of batting at number six. Along with these two, Kartik Tyagi can also make a name for himself in this season. But, unlike Jaiswal and Parag, he might not get a look in straightway.
Overall, the lack of big Indian names makes the Royals seem weak in two departments – lower-order batting and pace bowling. Stokes’s absence leaves them with a gaping void. Foreign players and spinners will have to fill the gaps if the underdogs are to punch above their weight yet again.