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Sports Home IPL 2013 Features IPL 6: Rajasthan Royals, don't count them out as underdogs

IPL 6: Rajasthan Royals, don't count them out as underdogs

The team won the inaugural edition. Skipper-cum-coach Rahul Dravid feels it can deliver a performance which can take the team to a top-4 finish, if not better, this year.

NDTVCricket  |  Last updated on Monday, 08 April 2013 17:19 Print font size - +

A war-cry will emit from the Sawai Man Singh Stadium during the next two months as the Rajasthan Royals gear up for the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League.

It is easy to love the Rajasthan Royals. Winners of the inaugural edition of the IPL, Rajasthan franchise is everyone's 'second favourite' team. Sans the superstars of cricket, the Royals are helmed by Rahul Dravid and therefore, epitomize professionalism.

The team is youthful, energetic and exuberant - adjectives which truly describe a side high on passion. Unfortunately for the team and its fans, the passion worked like a charm in the first edition of the IPL but hasn't since. Rajasthan have failed to finish higher than sixth in the last four editions.

That Rahul Dravid has decided to stay for another year - his third with the Royals - is a boon to the side. The legendary batsman though has his task cut out. The team that captured hearts is on the wane. And so is the belief that they can win the title. Rajasthan Royals, for the past couple of seasons, look like a team content in making up the numbers.

Shane Watson is a name that stands out among the Royals. For the first time, in a long time, Watson is available for the entirety of the IPL season. Along with Owais Shah and Brad Hodge, Rajasthan do not lack T20 specialists but possess rather a weak support cast.

The bowling, the Achilles heel of Rajasthan, has been boosted by the return to fitness of S Sreesanth and the signing of Australian pacer James Faulkner. Faulkner has been in sensational form, helping Tasmania to the Sheffield Shield title.

Ashok Menaria impressed last season. Expect Sachin Baby to do so this year. Even Siddharth Trivedi has the ability to showcase his undoubted potential. But the cream of the Indian crop in the Royals line-up is Ajinkya Rahane.
The Mumbai lad has, in the recent past, found a place in the Indian ODI and Test squads and is a seasoned IPL campaigner. Opening the batting for the Royals, much will depend upon Rahane to provide solidity to a flamboyant batting line-up.

Yet, one gets the feeling that Dravid is the real and authentic nucleus of the side. Not as controversial or charismatic as his predecessor Shane Warne, Dravid brings pragmatism in a format that borders on electrifying chaos. That is not to say he hasn't adapted to Twenty20 cricket. Last season, the veteran played some compelling knocks and unveiled shots that he never displayed in the ODI or Test arena.

Under Dravid, Rajasthan go into the IPL with a young and inexperienced unit. Their youthful policy paid dividends once. But the memory of that triumph now seems a bit foggy. History though has a habit of repeating itself which is what this team will also be banking on.

The Rajasthan Royals do have another added advantage though. The Sawai Man Singh is a cauldron - hot, noisy and vociferous. With a full house cheering on the home side, the din is reminiscent of war. A war the Royals mostly win on home turf. 'Halla Bol'is the team's war cry and it may regain its thunderous volume.

Weaknesses:
Though the team is youthful and energetic, Rajasthan Royals lack experienced players. Rajasthan have failed to finish higher than sixth in the last four editions. Along with Shane Watson, Owais Shah and Brad Hodge, Rajasthan do not lack T20 specialists but possess rather a weak support cast.

Strengths:
For the first time, after a gap of several years, Shane Watson is available for the entirety of the IPL season. The bowling department will be boosted by the return of the return to fitness of S Sreesanth and the signing of Australian pacer James Faulkner.

Hot Players:

Rahul Dravid:
The captain of Rajasthan Royals needs no introduction. The successor to Shane Warne, Dravid will lead his young charges into battle as the Royals look to spring a few surprises this year. Not your archetypical Twenty20 player, Dravid has adapted to the shortest format of the game with relative ease.  He has spurned those who suggested he would falter in T20s with 1703 runs in 71 games, including seven fifties and a strike rate close to 120. But for the Royals Dravid is much more than just a batsman. He is their leader, mentor and guide - the man who brings pragmatism in a format that borders on electrifying chaos. That Rahul Dravid decided to stay for another year - his third with the Royals - is a definite boon to the side.

Ajinkya Rahane:
After almost sixteen months of sitting on the sidelines of the Indian Test playing XI, Ajinkya Rahane was awarded his long overdue Test cap in the final match versus Australia at Delhi. Although Rahane has an excellent first-class record, it is the Indian Premier League that propelled him into the limelight. He has scored 828 runs in just 36 games, including six fifties and a century and had a blistering campaign last time around. With Rajasthan not boasting a squad filled with big names, Rahane will have to play a massive role if the side is to have a turnaround in fortunes. Opening the batting for the Royals, much will depend upon Rahane to provide solidity to a flamboyant batting line-up.

Sreesanth:
A live-wire on and off the field the return to full fitness of Sreesanth is a massive boost to the Rajasthan Royals. In the raucous world of the Indian Premier League, the Kerala bowler is a perfect fit. At times in the T20 league Sreesanth has been unplayable but he has been involved in some unsavory moments as well- including the on-field spat with Harbhajan Singh in the inaugural IPL. Their bowling, the Achilles heel of Rajasthan, has been galvanized by the return to fitness of Sreesanth, who will be supported in the pace department by recent signing James Faulkner. The only question mark over Sreesanth is his fitness, with a string of hamstring injuries and fractured toes stifling his growth in the past few years. Yet, if the 30-year-old can keep himself fit, Rajasthan have a genuine quality pace bowler on their hands.

Shane Watson:
There is not much that can be said, that hasn't already been said, about Shane Watson. They may be question marks regarding his recent Test form, but Twenty20 cricket is Watson's playground. The burly Australian was voted Man of the Series at the 2012 World T20 Championships. For the first time, in a long time, Watson is available for the entirety of the IPL season. And skipper Rahul Dravid has already alluded to the fact that his availability is a massive boost for the Royals. He has been at Rajasthan since the inaugural IPL, and is a fan favourite at the Saway Man Singh. In just 39 IPL games Watson has smashed 1242 runs at a scintillating average and strike rate of 40 and 146 respectively. Recently in a bid to protect himself from injury the all-rounder decided to take a break from bowling. But teammate and fellow Aussie Brad Hodge has hinted that Watson may bowl for the Royals at some point during the IPL. If so, Rajasthan have a match-winner with both bat and ball in their ranks.

Brad Hogg:
Among the many Australians in Rajasthan Royals ranks, Brad Hogg is one of the rare chinaman bowlers in world cricket today. At 42 years of age, Hogg is an old warhorse but doesn't lack any of the zip and enthusiasm of his much younger contemporaries. His international years may have been in the shadow of Shane Warne, but Hogg has spent the last few years carving a niche for himself as a T20 specialist. So much so that he even played for Australia at the 2012 World T20 Championships. Along with the Royals, Hogg also represents the Perth Scorchers and the Cape Cobras in T20 competitions. Last season was Hogg's first appearance in the Indian Premier League and he finished with an impressive 10 wickets in nine games.

Owais Shah:
Pakistan-born Englishman Owais Shah has seen the breathtaking highs and the extreme lows of cricket in a career spanning over 15 years. Never being able to cement a permanent spot in English line-up Shah has forged a career, and will best be remembered, as a Twenty20 specialist. On his day the 34-year-old can be a match-winner, a quality crucial in the Rajasthan middle-order. In the Indian Premier League, Shah has played just 21 games, scoring an impressive 481 runs at a strike rate of 136. His contributions during the latter stages of an innings or a match have proven crucial on many occasions. Often underrated, Owais Shah is the man the Royals will bank on applying the finishing touches to a batting effort.

Full Squad:
Rahul Dravid (Captain) Ajinkya Rahane, Ajit Chandila, Ankeet Chavan, Amit Singh, Ashok Menaria, Brad Hodge, Brad Hogg, Dishant Yagnik, Fidel Edwards, Harmeet Singh, James Faulkner, Kevon Cooper, Kusal Janith Perera, Owais Shah, Pravin Tambe, Rahul Dravid, Rahul Shukla, S Sreesanth, Sachin Baby, Samuel Badree, Sanju Samson, Shane Watson, Shaun Tait, Shreevats Goswami, Siddharth Trivedi, Stuart Binny

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Story first published on: Monday, 01 April 2013 20:53

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