IPL 2012 May 21, 2012

Good, but not good enough

Rajasthan Royals showed you didn't need big stars to compete, but once again they fell just short

Where they finished


In seventh place. But they had a chance to make the playoffs with two games to go, only to lose to Deccan Chargers and Mumbai Indians to close out their season.

Key player


Ajinkya Rahane showed why he is one of India's better batting prospects by excelling at the top of the order. Having held the orange cap for a significant part of the season, Rahane ended the group stage third on the list of run scorers with 560 at an average of 40 and a strike rate of 129.33, though his form did tail away towards the end of the tournament.

Bargain buy


Picked up for $180,000 in the February auction, the 41-year-old Brad Hogg showed there was still plenty of bite left in his spinning fingers, taking 10 wickets from nine games while giving away just 7.02 runs per over. His introduction to the side gave the Royals' attack a different dimension that opposition batsmen found hard to combat, most memorably demonstrated by his dismissal of Chris Gayle in Bangalore and the celebratory run that followed.

Flop buy


A crucial component of the Royal's middle order, Ashok Menaria failed to live up to his billing this season, struggling with the bat and only bowling 3.2 overs. Though he has the ability to hit the big shots and score quickly, Menaria never found his rhythm, averaging just 20 with a disappointing strike-rate of 108.91.

Highlight


The win over Royal Challengers Bangalore in Bangalore. The game began with Rahane smashing the year's first hundred, an unbeaten 103 from just 60 balls that included 12 fours and five sixes. In support, Owais Shah blasted the fastest 50 of the tournament, from 19 balls, to set up a total of 195. After both Royal Challengers openers had fallen early to Pankaj Singh, Siddharth Trivedi knocked over the middle order to finish with 4 for 25, to give Royals a comprehensive 59-run victory.

Lowlight


Despite losing four games on the trot at one stage, Royals still controlled their destiny with two games to go. Beat Deccan Chargers and it would all have come down to a winner-take-all game against Mumbai Indians in Jaipur. But with their season in line against one of the poorest teams this year - Chargers had been victorious in only two matches out of 14 till that point - they were knocked out of the playoff race by a stifling spell of legspin bowling from Amit Mishra, who restricted them to their lowest total of the season. Chargers then cantered home with eight balls to spare.

Verdict


It was another year of almost-but-not-quite for Royals. The batting, led by Rahane, carried them in the early part of the season but four consecutive losses in the middle of the tournament left them with too much to do to make the playoffs. Still, with smart pickups like Owais Shah and Brad Hogg, the franchise continues to prove that you don't have to stock your roster with big names to be competitive. And had Shane Watson been around for the entire tournament, instead of missing the first nine games, the Royals might even have made it over the line. The big question for next year though is whether Rahul Dravid comes back for another season as captain or whether there will once again have to be a change at the top.

Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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