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April 3, 2012
Series/Tournaments: Indian Premier League
The key to Rajasthan Royals' 2012 season will be how they handle the transition at the head of the team. Shane Warne, their inspirational captain and face of the franchise, retired. The man who succeeded Warne is a cricket icon of equal standing but of different temperament. Warne was loud, aggressive and loved being the centre of attention. Rahul Dravid is quiet, restrained and simply goes about his business.
What the two have in common though is the ability to lead by example and a deep knowledge of the game. Now that Dravid has retired from international cricket the IPL is his sole cricketing focus, and if anyone can manage the change in culture with as few hiccups as possible, it will be him.
Last season was a mixed bag for the Royals, who started strongly and were in contention for a place in the playoffs before fading towards the end. A controversy over the pitch at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, which resulted in the disciplining of Warne, was a distraction, but the side's slide exposed the lack of depth in their batting. To the Royals' credit, they have gone some way to address that weakness with the additions of Brad Hodge, Owais Shah and Dinesh Chandimal, who can double up as wicketkeeper and might prove to be the steal of the 2012 player auction.
The loss of Warne will also be felt by the bowling attack, and the team will be hoping Brad Hogg, who had success in the Big Bash and the Bangladesh Premier League, can at least partially fill the void. Sreesanth potentially bolsters the seam department, but he hasn't played competitive cricket for six months and is unpredictable.
Johan Botha was a revelation up the order in 2011 and his unexpected form with the bat was crucial to the Royals' early success. He also opened the bowling to great effect and the team will need more of the same from him to compete this year.
Warne was one of two players retained by the Royals in 2011. The other was Shane Watson. The Australia allrounder will only arrive at the end of April, after the tour of the West Indies, but if the Royals can get off to a good start in his absence, Watson could provide a crucial late spark to help them qualify for the playoffs.
Big names in
The Royals bought Chandimal, Sri Lanka's newest batting sensation, for only $50,000 at the auction. They needed a wicketkeeper who can bat and they got him cheap. Chandimal's ability and consistency was on show in the recent triangular series in Australia and he should add steel to the Royals middle order.
Big names out
Ross Taylor, the team's self-described "finisher", was traded to Delhi Daredevils on the last day of the trading window. Taylor had a decent tournament in 2011 without producing anything special, and the franchise quickly found a replacement in Shah.
Below the radar
A transformed Stuart Binny was Karnataka's go-to man in the Ranji Trophy last season as the allrounder reaped the benefits of a new attitude and a commitment to fitness. He made 742 runs at an average of 67.45 and a strike rate of 83.46. He also took 20 wickets at an average of 20.10. If Binny can bring the same attitude to the IPL, the Royals might not miss Watson as much during the first half of the tournament.
Australia's ongoing tour of the West Indies means Watson is unavailable until the Test series ends on April 27.
Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Tariq Engineer
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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The thrills are rather low-octane, the skills are a bit lightweight, and the tournament overly India-centric
Twenty years on, Shivnarine Chanderpaul continues to be understated, underestimated. And that doesn't bother him. What's not to like?
Also, high scores and low averages, most ducks in international cricket, and the 12-year-old Test player
Of the 85 Tests that Bangladesh have played so far, they've lost 70 and won just four. Those stats are easily the worst among all teams when they'd played as many Tests
Former New Zealand seamer Gavin Larsen talks about wobbly seam-up bowling, the 1992 World Cup, and his role in the next tournament
Kids mimic the cricket heroes of the day, so the problem of throwing must be tackled before players reach the first-class level
But you can't expect a turnaround unless pitches, umpiring and practice facilities are simultaneously improved