When Rajasthan Royals were hit by the spot-fixing scandal in IPL VI, they were barely given time to recover from the shock of seeing teammates arrested and accused of giving less than 100% on the field before they had to compete once again.
Competing well after that kind of setback is commendable in itself, but Rajasthan did better than that, and finished third, beating Sunrisers Hyderabad in the eliminator, and missing out on a spot in the final only because Mumbai Indians snatched a last-ball win in the second qualifier.
The IPL, its scandals and its controversies are a few months old now, and Rajasthan have had time to re-group and re-focus for the Champions League Twenty20 2013. That focus was in evidence when Rahul Dravid, the Rajasthan captain, said the team would not let the "strength of its spirit" flag.
"We have played the last few matches of the IPL without those players (Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila), and I believe the team spirit we have and the morale we have will not go down. We won't let the strength of our spirit go down," said Dravid.
Rajasthan's opening match is against Mumbai Indians on Saturday (September 21), which pits Dravid against Sachin Tendulkar, his long-time India teammate who is playing his last series for Mumbai. Dravid characteristically chose to dwell on the contest between teams instead, and downplayed the fact that this might also be his final series appearance for Rajasthan.
"I think it's Rajasthan Royals versus Mumbai Indians," said Dravid, adding he hadn't even "thought about" the fact that he was facing off against Tendulkar. "I think I've played with and against Sachin so many times that it's really not about one game. I really hope we can meet again in the final."
On the team front, Dravid was upbeat, pointing out that many players in his squad had played cricket recently and could hit the ground running. "Most of our boys have been playing cricket - Watson and Faulkner have just come last night after playing a series for Australia, Menaria, Sanju (Samson) - some eight-nine boys have been playing cricket continuously. So we're quite ready."
Paddy Upton, the Rajasthan head coach, agreed with his captain, and said the team derives strength from its inclusiveness and the ability to give younger players the chance to shine.
"This is about getting us back into the really good space the team was in over the last year in the IPL and then looking to make some slight improvements on it," said Upton. "We've also got a slightly smaller squad with 15 people so we're able to pay more attention to individuals.
"I think we've been very fortunate that a lot of our success has been based around the success of our young or inexperienced players. The whole success of the Rajasthan Royals is the way we build around a team, as opposed to some individuals. The young players and the players who've had slightly lesser exposure have played an important role. I encourage them to talk in team meetings, have their say, and make it their own team."
Rajasthan should be pleased with the CLT20 schedule, since they play all their league matches at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur, their personal 'fortress' where they won every match in IPL VI. "We get good crowd support here and the boys are always happy to play here. We feel very comfortable in Jaipur and Rajasthan, so I'm sure we'll give a good performance this time around also," said Dravid.
Story first published on: Thursday, 19 September 2013 20:09 IST