Can Rajasthan rise above the ordinary?
No team has to take a harder road to the 2011 IPL than the Rajasthan Royals, who are happy just to be playing in the tournament. Kicked out of the league by the BCCI last October for alleged violations of their franchise agreement, Rajasthan fought back through the courts and were eventually reinstated, but there was a last-minute hitch - their salary budget was reduced by $1.9 million on the opening day of the player auction by the court, hurting their ability to compete with the rest of the teams.
As a result Rajasthan find themselves in a familiar position as one of the weaker teams in the league, and will once again be counting on their inspirational captain, Shane Warne, to turn them into something greater than the sum of their parts. Warne has the all-round skills of Shane Watson at his disposal - the two of them were retained by Rajasthan - but will have to adapt to losing the brutal power of Yusuf Pathan, who was bought by Kolkata Knight Riders. Rajasthan did add Rahul Dravid and will hope that he, in addition to Warne, can mould their squad of young domestic players into a competitive unit.
Shane Warne is now 41 years old and while his competitive fire burns as brightly as ever, the hectic schedule created by the addition of two new teams will take its toll physically at least, if not mentally. Warne leads by example as much as inspiration and how well he handles his body over the duration of the seven-week tournament will have a direct impact on Rajasthan's chances.
There has been no better all-round player in the world over the last two years than Shane Watson, and Rajasthan will need him to continue in the same vein. It will be Watson's job to get them off to good starts at the top of the order as well as back up fellow Australia fast bowler Shaun Tait with the ball. Unfortunately, Rajasthan have to wait until Australia complete their one-day tour of Bangladesh before Watson can join the team.
In a batting line-up that is relatively thin and lacks big hitters, it will fall to Ross Taylor to provide the finishing kick. Taylor became a cult favourite at Royal Challengers Bangalore for his exploits with the bat, especially in 2009, when he made 280 runs at a strike-rate of 134.61. If he can replicate that kind of performance, it will mitigate the loss of Yusuf to some extent.
Big name in
Rahul Dravid was brought in by Rajasthan as much for his ability to mould young players as his cricketing ability. Dravid will add experience and stability to the batting line-up, but his most important contribution will be to get the best out of what is a relatively young and inexperienced squad.
Big name out
Yusuf Pathan chose not to remain with Rajasthan and his departure leaves a gaping hole. He blossomed under the leadership of Warne, and gave the team a genuine gamechanger. Rajasthan does not have anyone in the squad who can step in to the breach and play the same devastating role, though Taylor can hit some big sixes, as he demonstrated against Shoaib Akhtar and Pakistan in the World Cup
Below the radar
Pinal Shah shocked everyone, including Baroda's staunchest supporters, by leading a side comprising mostly 20-somethings all the way to the Ranji Trophy final. Baroda lost the final to Rajasthan, but the 23-year-old Shah cemented his burgeoning reputation as a shrewd leader, who is not overawed by the big occasion, which should stand him in good stead as he makes his IPL debut. Shah has an average of 21.43 and a strike-rate of 112.45 in 20 domestic Twenty20 innings, with a top score of 71.
Last three seasons
Rajasthan were the surprise champions in the first season, when no one gave them much of a chance, reeling off 11 consecutive wins at one stage, before slipping past Chennai Super Kings by one run in the final. But they failed to replicate that initial success, and struggled over the next two years, finishing sixth and seventh respectively.
Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo