Death bowling, overseas players' form hurts Royals
Rajasthan Royals' IPL 2015 was a classic case of contrasting halves. They might have felt they had achieved their objective of making it to the last four for the third time in eight seasons, but the manner in which the team struggled after getting off to a solid start would leave a bitter taste in the change room.
The team won their first five games in succession. The fact that those five were played in 10 days helped them keep the momentum going. But once the string was broken, in a one-over eliminator against Kings XI Punjab, Royals never looked the same unit. In the end, more than suffering from the two washouts, Royals benefitted from them as those two points were crucial in qualifying for the playoffs.
All through their campaign, Royals couldn't come up with a solution for their death bowling. Their bowling unit conceded the most runs in the last five overs among all teams speaks volumes about the problem that plagued them throughout the campaign.
One of the key reasons for the Royals turbulent season was the lack of big-ticket players performing consistently. Barring Ajinkya Rahane, none of the three Australians - Shane Watson, Steven Smith and James Faulkner - could come up with more than one match-winning contribution.
Well begun is half done, they say. But the Royals' start was so impressive - five wins from as many games - that their qualification was almost a given in the first two weeks. Despite missing Shane Watson due to an injury for four of those games, Smith's men looked class apart.
Royals played three matches against Royal Challengers and didn't win any, which hit their campaign hard. The first loss started their slide while the loss in the Eliminator on Tuesday night ended their indifferent season.
Top of the class
Establishing himself as Mr. Reliable in every team he plays for, Ajinkya Rahane enhanced his credentials by plundering 540 runs in the season. Royals' next-highest scorer was almost 200 runs behind him. Rahane thus joined the select band of Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina and Shaun Marsh to have tallied more than 500 runs in an IPL season more than once.
James Faulkner came into the tournament as the premier allrounder from Australia's victorious World Cup campaign. He started off in top form but fizzled out as the tournament progressed. A series haul of 144 runs at an average of 18 and eight wickets at an economy rate of 9.46 was nowhere close to what the team sought from the leading allrounder.
Tip for 2016
Death bowling. That's the No. 1 priority that Royals need to sort. They tried all possible options but barring Chris Morris in a couple of games, none of their bowlers could get it right in the end, which cost them dearly all through the season. Also, it would also be ideal if the team unveils the captain of the season well in advance and sticks by it all through the season.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo