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IPL 2020 Season Preview: Rajasthan Royals

The CricViz preview of Rajasthan Royals.

SQUAD

STRENGTHS

Overseas core

Rajasthan’s overseas core of Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer, Steve Smith and Ben Stokes is conspicuously strong and settled. Buttler and Archer are two of the world’s very best T20 players while Stokes and Smith, albeit perhaps slightly overrated in T20 cricket, remain international performers and highly skilled operators. Smith in particular is one player who is likely to benefit from the move to the UAE with the slower, lower pitches and large boundaries well-suited to his batting style and he will provide a pivotal role in anchoring the innings. These four players represent a strong core around which Rajasthan can structure their team.

Wrist spin

Rajasthan have three frontline wrist spinners in their squad – one of whom is perhaps the most underrated Indian bowler in the league: Shreyas Gopal. The leg spinner has taken 38 wickets at an astonishing strike rate of 15.5 in the IPL—among bowlers with more than 35 IPL wickets, only AJ Tye (a Royals teammate) boasts a better strike rate. He is supported by Rahul Tewatia and Mayank Markande, both of whom are not in Gopal’s class but represent good second options and allow Rajasthan to deploy the most effective bowler-type in T20 cricket regularly.

Unheralded Indians

Rajasthan’s squad is littered by Indian players who either sneak under the radar or are very promising youngsters. Samson is their standout local player and is an exceptional talent but because he can’t break into India’s team perhaps does not get the recognition that he deserves. Gopal has a strong claim to being a better wrist spinner than India’s frontline white ball spinner Yuzvendra Chahal while Ankit Rajpoot is one of the finest Powerplay bowlers in India – in the last two seasons of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy Rajpoot has taken 13 Powerplay wickets at a strike rate of 14.3 balls per wicket. Rajpoot has not yet translated his performances at that level into the IPL but at 26 years-old is approaching his prime. The Royals also have a hoard of very impressive youngsters: left-handers Yashavsi Jaiswal and Anuj Rawat with the bat and seamers Kartik Tyagi and Akash Singh with the ball. It remains unclear how much game time these players will get but Rajasthan have arguably got the best young Indian talent of any team in the league.

Well-suited to the UAE

The move to the UAE arguably benefitted no team more than Rajasthan. Their squad was clearly built with their home venue – the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur – in mind, where the nature of the pitch can be quite slow and low and the large outfield can produce relatively low scoring matches. This is exactly the type of cricket that we are likely to see in this IPL, particularly in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Smith in particular is one batsman who enjoys such conditions and Rajasthan’s team more generally is one that is slightly short on power-hitting and will be more competitive in lower scoring games. Stokes’ slower starts are also less of an issue in lower scoring matches. Additionally, three of their bowlers—Tye, Curran and Unadkat—all bowl a high proportion of slower balls which are typically more successful on slower pitches.

WEAKNESSES

Overseas availability

No team will be more hurt by the late arrival of Australia and English overseas players than the Royals. Archer, Buttler, Curran, Tye and Smith will all miss the first game of the season due to quarantine while Stokes is expected to miss even longer due to personal issues that has seen him miss the end of England’s home season. The absence of these six players means Rajasthan will only have two overseas players (David Miller and Oshane Thomas) available for the opening match of the season against CSK. The length of Stokes’ absence remains unclear and while this does open new overseas options up to Rajasthan, losing a player of Stokes’ nature – who helps balance the side with batting and bowling – is going to be problematic.

Death overs hitting

Perhaps the clearest area of weakness for the Royals is their death overs batting. Their top order is well-stocked with overseas talent but with the talented but very young Riyan Parag likely to be occupying one spot at six or seven and the identity of the other batsman remaining unclear, the Royals do look a little light on firepower at the death. Indeed, last season no team scored more slowly in the death over phase than Rajasthan who returned a run rate of 9.29 runs per over in the phase. The one player who could help solve this issue is Samson, who has an outstanding death overs strike rate of 227 in the phase in the IPL since the start of the 2017 season. However, Samson’s position in the batting order remains unclear and his skills are also needed towards the top as well.

Death overs bowling

The trouble with the Royals’ overseas quartet of Buttler, Smith, Stokes and Archer is that they are all difficult to leave out yet—given the local players alongside them—leave the Royals short in the death overs. This was clearly an issue last season with the Royals’ death overs economy rate of 11.33 was the worst in the league. Archer will lock down at least two overs at the back-end but the triumvirate of Buttler, Smith and Stokes prevents Tye or Curran—two death over specialists—from appearing in the team and leaves the Royals reliant on Indian pace bowlers to cover the overs at the death. In 2017 Jaydev Unadkat was exceptionally effective in that phase for Rising Pune Supergiant but his performances in the two seasons since then have dropped off a cliff. If Unadkat can’t rediscover his 2017 form—and the sluggish pitches should suit his cutters—then the Royals will be exposed in the phase unless they adjust their overseas balance. In this respect, Stokes’ expected absence for the first half of the tournament will open up a spot for Tye or Curran to plug the death overs gap.

Right-hander heavy first choice batsmen

In the most recent CPL the Jamaica Tallawahs showed the dangers of having a right-hander heavy batting order with teams bombing them with left-arm spinners and leg spinners. While the Rajasthan Royals are not quite as right-handed dominant as the Tallawahs, it could still be a potential problem for them this season – particularly in the absence of left-hander Stokes. Miller does provide a left-handed overseas replacement but it’s among the Indian players that the issue is a bit more pertinent. None of Rajasthan’s left-handed Indians—Jaiswal, Rawat, Tewatia and Mahipal Lomror—are guaranteed starters in the team while the more established players such as Samson, Uthappa and Parag are right-handers. It is likely that one, and quite possibly two of the local left-handers, will start but the lack of clarity around their identity will likely see teams target the Royals with spin away from the bat. Of course, the example of CSK—who have found sustained success in the IPL with just one frontline left-hander (Suresh Raina)—proves it is not essential to success but it does open the Royals up to being targeted by match-ups.

POSSIBLE XI

  1. Jos Buttler (RH)
  2. Yashvasi Jaiswal (LH & LS)
  3. Steve Smith (RH)
  4. Ben Stokes (LH & RFM)
  5. Robin Uthappa (RH)
  6. Sanju Samson (RH & WK)
  7. Riyan Parag (RH & LS)
  8. Shreyas Gopal (LS)
  9. Jofra Archer (RF)
  10. Ankit Rajpoot (RFM)
  11. Jaydev Unadkat (LFM)

SELECTION ISSUES

Overseas and team balance

The profiles and salaries of Buttler, Smith, Stokes and Archer makes it hard for the Royals to deviate from these four as their overseas quartet but in reality this could create issues, most notably around their death overs bowling (as discussed above). The absence of Stokes will enable Rajasthan to adjust to a 2-2 batsman-bowler overseas balance which bolsters the death bowling. However, with Stokes gone the Royals’ batting looks light on left-handers and if they choose to replace him with a bowler to cover the death shortcoming then it prevents left-handed Miller coming into the side, which may force their hand around selecting one of their Indian left-handers: Jaiswal, Rawat, Lomror or Tewatia. This debate also ties into the Royals’ issues with balancing the team itself. If Miller plays in Stokes’ absence then Parag can bat as low as seven—providing great batting depth—but Miller can’t replace Stokes’ overs which leaves the Royals reliant on Parag and Jaiswal’s part-time spin as the fifth bowler – which would be exceptionally risky. As such, Miller replacing Stokes seems unlikely and the more acceptable option would be to adjust to a 2-2 overseas balance and ask the likes of Tewatia, Gopal, Archer and—if selected—Curran to do the lower order lifting with the bat. Essentially this structure would create artificial batting depth by the Royals replacing an excellent seven with three or four number eights. Indeed, Curran’s batting ability may give him the edge over Tye as that fourth overseas player–despite arguably being an inferior bowler.

Who partners Buttler and where does Samson bat?

The Royals batting order could take on many different shapes and forms. Buttler and Smith can be pencilled in at two and three and Uthappa’s prowess against spin makes him well-suited to four with Parag likely to occupy one of the middle order spots as well.. When Stokes is available he is likely to slot into the middle order too but could be a nice option to partner Buttler given his tendency to start slowly and accelerate and also provide a left-handed partner to Buttler. Stokes’ absence may encourage the Royals to open with Samson but (as explored above) Samson’s ability in the death overs makes him well-suited to five or six. This leaves right-hander Manan Vohra or Jaiswal, Rawat, Lomror or potentially a pinch-hitter as the alternative opening options.

Rajpoot v Unadkat

Rajpoot is an excellent Powerplay bowler who swings the new ball and takes early wickets. If the Royals adjust their overseas balance to a 2-2 split with Stokes absent and opt for Curran or Tye as the fourth overseas player, therefore covering the death over phase, it might render Unadkat’s skill-set less valuable—ableit rob them of a left-armer—and potentially open up a spot for Rajpoot in the team. On the flipside if the Royals choose Oshane Thomas—more of a Powerplay bowler—as their fourth overseas option it makes Unadkat’s death over skills more valuable. Indeed, the form of Unadkat feels like it could be a defining aspect of Rajasthan’s strategy this season. Young quicks Tyagi and Singh provide alternate domestic pace bowling options.

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