Royal responsibility on batsmen as Rajasthan look for grand return

Royals look Calm, Composed and Stealthy (1:49)

A look at Rajasthan Royals team profile (1:49)

Big picture

'Crisis' is a word the Rajasthan Royals management must now be immune to. A return to the IPL after a two-year suspension could not have had a more stressful beginning. Steven Smith's involvement in the ball-tampering fiasco and his subsequent non-participation this season left them scurrying for a new captain.

Fortunately, the man who steps in - Ajinkya Rahane - has been part of the set-up since 2011 and played under Smith during a fairly successful 2017 season in which Rising Pune Supergiant finished runners-up. Having a number of players who were part of that campaign - including two of the season's costliest buys in Jaydev Unadkat and Ben Stokes - means there could be some sort of continuity.

In Heinrich Klaasen, the South African wicketkeeper, Royals have acquired a multi-skilled batsman who showed glimpses of his destructive ability in the home series against India in January.

Having spent 40 percent of their purse on Stokes, Jofra Archer, the Sussex allrounder, and Unadkat, the team was forced to go Moneyball, in line with their reputation over the years, in building the rest of the squad. Having doled out big cash, they will hope their big acquisitions don't give them more selection headaches.

Stokes, already in the middle of court proceedings for affray, has complained of a back niggle that has prevented him from bowling full-tilt during England's recently-concluded tour of New Zealand. He has admitted to being "frustrated" by the problem that first surfaced during the ODI series last month, but is confident of being able to bowl off a short run-up.

On the face of it, bowling four overs on any given day may not be too much of an issue, but the IPL involves hectic travelling in the peak of summer, which could be a challenge in conjunction with the short recovery time between matches. Archer too is on the comeback trail after missing the Pakistan Super League with a side strain. While there is no imminent threat of his missing the tournament, there have already been calls to manage his workload to prevent further injuries.

Apart from their triumph in the inaugural 2008 season, Royals have underwhelmed and have been a side that has often fallen by the wayside after impressive starts - most ingloriously in 2014 when they conceded 190 in just 14.4 overs to bow out of contention.

Ongoing administrative tussles between the BCCI and the Rajasthan Cricket Association over the years have meant the franchise hasn't quite managed to establish a bastion in Jaipur, of the kind Super Kings and Knight Riders enjoy in Chennai and Kolkata. This year, however, seven full home games at the Sawai Man Singh Stadium in Jaipur should help rekindle the team's connect with its home fans.

The good

In Jos Buttler, D' Arcy Short, who set a new record for the most runs ever scored in a single BBL season, Archer, who has had impressive stints in Bangladesh and Australia, and Stokes, a proven performer across formats, Royals have four pedigreed professionals who should make up the overseas quota, barring injuries.

This coupled with the presence of Sanju Samson and the impressive Rahul Tripathi, who came in as a replacement and did wonders for Supergiant in the previous season, makes their batting competitive. Will they miss Smith then? Possibly not.

The bad

The absence of a proper out-and-out fast-bowling option, Archer aside, could leave Royals vulnerable on good batting surfaces. Yes, they have Dushmantha Chameera but they may struggle to fit him into their first XI, leaving the bowling possibly in the hands of the local players. Among those, Dhawal Kulkarni, Unadkat and Anureet Singh are more known for their variations and swing and not pace. Their spin stocks are a bit slim, although they will try and fit in K Gowtham, for whom they shelled out INR 6.2 crores, and Shreyas Gopal, should the need arise.

The overseas question

Royals are unlikely to look beyond Buttler, Stokes, Archer and Short, fitness permitting. Should they want a mystery spinner, Afghanistan's Zahir Khan, who impressed at the Under-19 World Cup with his left-arm wristspin, could be a more-than-handy option purely from the point of view of unfamiliarity.

The plan

Jaipur has produced bouncy surfaces in the past and there is zip for the fast bowlers later in the evening. But the composition of Royals' squad currently leaves them reliant on their batting. Little doubt then that they should look to their strong batting core to set the platform for their bowlers to defend.

Possible starting XI

1 D'Arcy Short, 2 Rahul Tripathi, 3 Ajinkya Rahane (capt), 4 Sanju Samson, 5 Jos Buttler (wk), 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Jofra Archer, 8 K Gowtham, 9 Shreyas Gopal/Stuart Binny, 10 Jaydev Unadkat, 11 Dhawal Kulkarni

The brains

Shane Warne (chief mentor), Amol Muzumdar (batting coach), Sairaj Bahutule (spin bowling coach)