It has been a topsy-turvy ride in the past four years for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL. Right from becoming the champions in the inaugural edition to almost touching the wooden spoon (seventh place) in 2010, the Jaipur-based side has always found itself in the spotlight. While questions were always raised on their alleged links with former IPL boss and now bankrupt Lalit Modi, their termination and then getting back into the league after a hard-fought legal battle with the BCCI was the talking point in 2011. And when everything looked set, the recent rumours that the franchise is set to be sold to a Kolkata-based business group has once again put them in the dock. Whether they manage to leave their inglorious past behind and repeat the success of 2008 or take the path of another ignominy will be something to watch out for in the fifth year of the league's inception.
Name: Rajasthan Royals
Captain: Rahul Dravid
Coach: Monty Desai
Owner: Emerging Media, Shilpa Shetty and Raj Kundra
Cost of the team: $67 million
Key players: Shane Watson could have been their main man, but the Australian allrounder is playing in the Caribbean with the national side and will miss the first eight matches of the league. In the absence of Watson, the balance of the side will largely depend upon other foreign recruits such as Johan Botha (South Africa), Brad Hodge, Brad Hogg and Shaun Tait (all from Australia), Paul Collingwood (England) and Dinesh Chandimal (Sri Lanka). Taking out the maximum from these players would be on Rahul Dravid's mind. While Hodge's experience will be an advantage at the top order, his compatriot Hogg - the oldest cricketer actively involved in the game - and Tait will be important cogs of the bowling unit. While Hogg is still capable of foxing the batsmen with his chinamen deliveries, Tait's fiery pace can rattle the stumps of the best batsman.
Collingwood brings versatility to the side with his all-round ability, while the young Chandimal is capable of firing runs. The Sri Lankan's skill to keep wickets gives the side an option and him an edge over others. Four of these five players, and skipper Dravid, will form the core of the side, while the Indian players will be picked according to the roles they can play in the playing XI. Ajinkya Rahane could well be the opening partner of Hodge. Ashok Menaria is someone who can chip in few overs with his left-arm orthodox and is also capable of hitting big shots in the middle innings. Stuart Binny has also done well, both with the bat and ball, in the recently concluded Ranji Trophy season for Karnataka. With his sharp glovework and explosive batting, the diminutive Sreevats Goswami may turn out to be a pocket dynamite for Rajasthan. The trio of Pankaj Singh, Siddharth Trivedi and Deepak Chahar, along with Tait, forms the pace unit.
Strengths: The Rajasthan squad mainly consists of Indian players who go about their business without being noticed much. And not having the 'star players' has somehow worked in their favour so far. No big players means no clash of egos, and that has helped them gel together and perform well as a unit. The presence of Dravid at the helm will not only bring work ethics but also more calmness to the side.
Weaknesses: The absence of big players, although helped the side getting together as a unit in the past, it also led to their downfall in crunch situations. The inexperienced players were found wanting when situations got tough. It will also be a challenge for them to come out of the shadows of Shane Warne, the former captain who had instilled the confidence and a much-needed self-belief in a ragtag bunch of players to perform on a big stage. It will also be interesting to see how the team fills the void left by former coach Darren Barry, whose partnership with Warne brought positives results for the side, and accept Monty Desai, whose qualification to coach an IPL side will be tested.
2011 performance: Having won six of the seven games played last year, RR finished sixth - arguably their best performance after the first season - among the 10 teams. Their campaign got off well, two wins in the first two games, but four losses later in the tournament put paid to their hopes of making to the play-offs.
2012 prospects: As the foreign players are expected to do their jobs, the team's fortune will largely depend upon how well the Indian fringe players perform. If they maintain the discipline and enthusiasm they showed in the previous editions, Rajasthan are well capable of springing a few surprises in this season as well.