Rajasthan should come out of the shadows of troublesome recent past and play the same fearless cricket that has made them one of the most sought-after T20 sides.
It will be a tough ask, but Rajasthan Royals will look to forget the troublesome last few months when they start their Champions League Twenty20 campaign against IPL6 champions Mumbai Indians on Saturday.
They were in a shock when three of their players - S Sreesanth, Ankit Chavan and Ajit Chandila - were found guilty of match-fixing towards the end of IPL6 and were later banned by the BCCI disciplinary committee. The impact of the terrible episode was visible on the team as despite putting their best effort, they failed to qualify for the IPL6 finals, finishing third in the points table.
Rahul Dravid, the Rajasthan skipper, did a commendable job as he tried his best to not let the off-field incidents affect his team's morale, and his job will be to repeat the same in CLT20 as well. Considering this will be his last outing as a professional cricketer, he would also like to finish on a high.
From the inaugural season itself, Rajasthan have surprised everyone with their ability to fight till the end. Although they don't have a bunch of star players like some of the other IPL teams, they have an extraordinary ability to fight as a unit. And their performance in IPL6 should give them a lot of confidence going into CLT20.
While their batsmen scored runs, the bowlers chipped in with wickets at crucial times. Three of their batsmen scored more than 400 runs in IPL6, with Shane Watson (543 runs at 38.78) leading the pack, followed by Ajinkya Rahane (488 runs at 32.55) and Dravid (471 runs at 29.43). Watson also struck the only century for them in IPL6 when he demolished the Chennai Super Kings' bowling attack, smashing 101 off just 61 balls. His ability to bowl upfront also proved crucial as he picked up 13 wickets at 22.92, and getting a hundred (143) in the last ODI against England recently will hold him in good stead coming into this tournament.
Rahane and Dravid formed a good opening pair, with the former following in the footsteps of Dravid - also his 'idol' - in shot-making and consistency. The presence of good allrounders has been a boon for Rajasthan as other than Watson they also have Kevon Cooper and Stuart Binny. Although Cooper didn't get many runs with the bat in IPL6, he contributed with 19 wickets. Binny impressed with his hard-hitting batsmanship, scoring 293 runs at 32.55 and picking up six wickets at 27. All three - Watson, Binny and Cooper - form the core of the middle order.
The emergence of young Sanju Samson (206 at 25.75) was one of the positives for Rajasthan in IPL6. His ability to keep wickets gives the side an option in case they want to bring in an extra bowler or a batsman in place of the regular wicketkeeper Dishant Yagnik, who too is a good batsman lower down the order and has at times been used as a pinch-hitter. Australian veteran Brad Hodge (293 runs at 41.85) provides them stability and experience in the middle order.
James Faulkner turned out to be a revelation for Rajasthan in IPL6. The lanky pacer was the second highest wicket-taker in the event, taking 28 wickets at a staggering average of 15.25. Rajasthan expect Faulkner, who also got two five-wicket hauls in the April-May tournament, to repeat his performance. The Dravid-led side will definitely miss the services of medium-pacer Siddharth Trivedi, who has been handed a one-year ban for his involvement in the spot-fixing case. In that scenarior, pacer Vikramjeet Malik will have a big job to do for his captain.
With Chavan also missing out after being banned for life by the BCCI, the team will hope Ashok Menaria fills the place as a left-arm-spinner. The 22-year-old bowled exceptionally well against New Zealand A recently and his ability to hit long will only add to the team's strength. Rajasthan used express bowler Shaun Tait and Brad Hogg, who bowls chinaman, sparingly in IPL6. Both can be used here as surprise weapons.
The challenge, as mentioned above, for Rajasthan though will remain to dig themselves out of the spot-fixing shadow and play the same fearless cricket that has made them one of the most sought-after T20 teams.
Squad: Rahul Dravid (Capt), Stuart Binny, Kevon Cooper, James Faulkner, Brad Hodge, Vikramjeet Malik, Ashok Menaria, Ajinkya Rahane, Sanju Samson, Rahul Shukla, Shaun Tait, Pravin Tambe, Shane Watson, Dishant Yagnik (wk)