Rajasthan to rely on Dravid, Warne to attract young players
Faced with a reduced budget of $7.1m at the IPL player auction, the Rajasthan Royals were limited to buying just eight players (of which only two were Indian) and now face another problem - how do they fill out the rest of the squad? The solution, according to franchise officials, will be to use the star power and proven leadership qualities of players such as Rahul Dravid and Shane Warne, and the presence of two current national Twenty20 captains, to attract and mould younger, talented domestic players.
Rajasthan were widely considered to have the weakest team on paper in 2008, but their combination of experience and young talent gelled under Shane Warne's inspired leadership, and they confounded the pundits to lift the trophy in the tournament's inaugural year. The same blueprint will be in place this time around, which is why Sean Morris, the Rajasthan chief executive, says they honed in on players who have captained their national Twenty20 sides, such as Johan Botha and Paul Collingwood.
"We had to be focused and have specific targets," Morris told ESPNcricinfo. "I think we've got the kind of dressing room you would build if you wanted a dream dressing room of leaders. We've surpassed our expectations. [There is] lots of talent that we can bring in to the dressing room that is full of international experience, creating a blend of incredible experience with the young, local players."
"All these Indian boys can have Dravid as a mentor," Raghu Iyer, spokesperson for Rajasthan, said. "The strategy is to have a blend of youth and experience. That is what delivered for us in season one. Yusuf [Pathan] was not the star he is now. [Ravindra] Jadeja was not the star he is now. They have all delivered for us and done extremely well."
There is a second incentive the team can offer talented, young players that other franchises might not be able to match - the opportunity to play regularly in the IPL. Over the first three years, a number of domestic players merely sat on the sidelines and watched while the more established players in the squad were picked for matches. They still benefitted from training with and being exposed to international players, but there is no substitute for competitive games.
"Our players are going to be playing a lot of cricket for us," Morris said. "The young Indian players will be looking at all the teams and players and thinking who am I going to compete with and when I am going to play? And they will look at Rajasthan and will be thinking I have a fantastic chance of playing."
The franchise plans to begin augmenting its squad with players from Rajasthan's Ranji Trophy team, which has had an excellent domestic season, knocking off heavyweights Mumbai and Tamil Nadu on their way to the finals against Baroda. "The domestic players from Rajasthan are going to get a lot of focus," Iyer, said. "They have done very well this season. There is a loyalty there and talent as well. We need to be riding that wave."
Among the players the franchise is looking at are 18-year-old Deepak Chahar, who made a huge splash on his first-class debut by taking 8 for 10 to dismiss Hyderabad for a Ranji record low-score of 21, and 20-year-old Ashok Menaria, who captained India in the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand in 2010, after which he bagged an IPL contract with Royal Challengers Bangalore. Rajasthan's wicketkeeper, Rohit Jhalani, is another player the franchise has its eye on as they failed to pick up a keeper in the auction. In addition, the team is hoping to re-sign players that were part of its development squad for the first three years.
Naturally, the franchise is also attempting to sign some of the more prominent domestic players, such as the Mumbai pair of middle-order batsman Ajinkya Rahane and seamer Dhawal Kulkarni, by offering them the same carrot of regular cricket alongside established stars.
"At the end of the day, the domestic players are going to make a lot of difference," Iyer said. "It [the squad] is going to be lean and mean. Everybody has learnt that."
Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo