Rajasthan Royals have been the perennial underdogs in Twenty20 cricket. Their deeds on the field have, more often than not, outstripped their strength on paper, and in Shane Warne and Rahul Dravid, they have had men who were adept at creating a whole that has been bigger than the sum of its parts.
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That meshing of strengths was in evidence on Saturday (September 22), when Rajasthan started their Champions League Twenty20 2013 campaign with a clinical seven-wicket win over Mumbai Indians. Every player contributed to the win, starting with the bowlers, who uniformly stuck to a plan and bowled an off stump line, the captain, who marshalled his troops astutely, and the batsmen, who weathered good bowling and soaked up pressure effortlessly. (As it happened)
"We recognise that we need performances from everybody," said Dravid after his team kept their unbeaten streak for 2013 at Sawai Mansingh Stadium alive. "Sure, on his day (Shane) Watson will win one or two games for us on his own. On the other days we all have to chip in and perform as a team. You saw that today, when Vikram (Vikramjeet Malik) bowled beautifully up front, Rahul Shukla bowled a couple of good overs, (Kevon) Cooper had a little bit of an off-day, (James) Faulkner was brilliant as usual. With the bat, Sanju (Samson) and (Ajinkya) Rahane got runs, Stuart Binny was superb at the end, under pressure. We're the sum of all our parts."
Dravid explained that the leadership group of himself and Paddy Upton, the coach, had tried to create a culture of allowing people the freedom to express themselves, and youngsters performing well was a direct result of that.
"I try to give them freedom and let people express themselves. Even if they go out and make mistakes, if they've committed to something and it doesn't come off, we're not going to blame anybody," said Dravid. "We're trying to create that culture in the team.
"It's not easy in a pressure situation, people feel pressure and to try and give them that freedom is important. It works some days; it doesn't some others. But there's been a good environment around the group that has allowed these youngsters to grow and flourish."
Against Mumbai, Dravid was particularly happy with the bowlers and how Samson and Rahane, who were associated in a 74-run second-wicket stand, piloted the chase of 143 on a pitch with some juice in it.
"It was exceptional," said Dravid of his side's bowling. "The bowlers are the ones who set the game up for us. And I thought Sanju's partnership with Rahane was really mature. They showed calmness and control, didn't seem panicky, didn't rush."
Tactically too, Dravid was on top of the situation. When an unexpected downpour delayed the start, he made an instant decision to go without a spinner, relying only on Ashok Menaria's left-arm spin. And when Rajasthan bowled, Dravid was quick with his bowling changes, never allowing the Mumbai batsmen to settle. "Sometimes you have to just do these things on instinct. That is one of our tactics, we try and surprise people," he acknowledged.
The win was a happy homecoming for the Rajasthan team, whose campaign in IPL VI ended in the immediate aftermath of the spot-fixing controversy. Dravid said the team "had spoken about it" after gathering in Jaipur before the CLT20, but that "it had been put behind" them and "there was no hangover of the last season".
Playing in Jaipur, a venue the team has felt very much at home in, undoubtedly helped. Rajasthan will play all their league matches in Jaipur and if they top their group, they'll play their semifinal also at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium.
"It's the kind of wicket that suits our bowling attack and our batsmen," explained Dravid. "We have batsmen who aren't necessarily big six-hitters, but play good cricketing shots, and with the little bit of bounce here, it suits us. There's something in it for the bowlers too, and the guys know what lengths to bowl.
"And it's always nice to be able to unpack your suitcase and keep all your shirts on a hanger. You never get that luxury as an international cricketer. We reached here a week earlier, so we knew we were going to be here for almost three weeks, and I've at least unpacked my suitcase!"