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Rajasthan Royals, despite controversy and a poor away record, had their best season in five years
May 25, 2013
Where they finished
Third. When the tournament started, Rajasthan Royals were the outsiders, a team that relished the role of the underdog and was regarded as arguably the best of the second-tier sides; never too far from making it to the playoffs, but never considered a serious enough challenger to the big four. Led by an inspirational Rahul Dravid, who said the Champions League later in the year may be the last time he'll play for them, the team proved that the whole was more than the sum of its parts by humbling one side after the other on a juicy pitch in Jaipur, but found the going tough away from home on pitches that were either too slow or too flat.
They played their last three matches under tremendous pressure post the spot-fixing allegations and came close to sneaking into the finals during a tight finish against Mumbai Indians. It was Royals' first top-four finish since winning the title in 2008.
What went right
Royals made the most - winning eight out of eight - of helpful conditions in Jaipur which were suited to their bowling attack replete with medium-pacers, and where their technically sound top-order batsmen were able to take their time while Shane Watson bludgeoned his way through. But more than anything, they played as a team, with most turning up with more than one useful contribution during the tournament.
Royals preferred chasing and did it well, with nine of their 11 wins coming in that fashion. Ajinkya Rahane was the rock in the batting, Dravid took the role of the floater, young Sanju Samson delighted all with his attractive strokeplay, and Stuart Binny capped off a solid domestic season with some aggressive match-winning hands in the IPL. The balance in their batting was apparent in the numbers - three of Royals' batsmen scored more than 400 runs in the tournament with Mumbai Indians the only other team to do so.
Royals' bowling lacked express pace, but they swung the ball and mixed up the pace to return with rich hauls. James Faulkner picked up a couple of wickets whenever the team needed one, and he received solid support from Watson, Kevon Cooper and Siddharth Trivedi.
What went wrong
As a team, Royals were effective but not feared and more often than not, they slipped while playing away from home, with only two wins during league stages. The lack of a quality spinner in their ranks hurt them when they played on more benign pitches where their medium-pacers lacked potency.
The other issue was their batting: Apart from Watson and Binny, others failed to find the extra gear when the situation demanded more runs. Most surprising was the pace at which Rahane scored his runs. Last year, he maintained a high strike-rate throughout the season, but this year, his 488 runs came at a strike-rate of 106.55.
The rug was pulled under Royals' feet the moment the news about the spot-fixing allegations on three of their players surfaced. It was just before the playoffs and took the gloss away from a relatively successful season.
Shane Watson continues to be at the heart of Royals' campaign. He was there in the first season and he is still here after six seasons, bullying bowling attacks and picking crucial wickets. He started the season with four relatively quiet matches, but found his groove in his batting once he also started to bowl. It was in his fifth match - in Chennai - that he opened up, smashing a 61-ball 101 and followed it up with an unbeaten 98. But his best innings came in Jaipur, against Chennai Super Kings, when he tore the bowling apart in a blinding 34-ball assault that won Royals the match with ease after their batting had been left in tatters by the Super Kings seamers. After taking a few months break from bowling, Watson returned to bowl more than 40 overs and picked up 13 wickets.
Shaun Tait should have ideally found the conditions in Jaipur to his liking, but his tendency to spray the ball meant he watched most of the season from the sidelines. In the three chances that he got, he bowled 10 overs and was expensive giving away 98 runs.
Bought for $400,000 in the 2013 auction, James Faulkner proved to be an excellent return on investment. Thought to be a handy lower-order batsman, he was pushed up the order a few times with poor results. However, he made it more than up with his bowling, picking up 28 wickets in the season - the joint highest in any season along with Lasith Malinga's haul in 2011. He also picked up two five-wicket hauls - the only bowler to do so in the IPL.
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