Smith replaces Rahane as captain as Royals look for 'fresh approach'
In a bid to introduce a "fresh approach" to their stuttering IPL 2019 campaign, Rajasthan Royals have decided to remove Ajinkya Rahane as the captain and replace him with Steven Smith for the remainder of the current season. Royals have had a sequence of poor results in recent times, losing three of their last four games and six of eight overall so far.
Smith will, however, leave for Australia on May 1 for their World Cup camp, and Royals will still have a league game to go, on May 4 against Delhi Capitals in Delhi.
ESPNcricinfo understands the Royals team management and owners decided to replace Rahane with Smith, who had been shortlisted as the leader after the 2018 IPL auction, following a sequence of poor results in the ongoing competition.
"Ajinkya Rahane did a fantastic job in leading the team to the playoffs last year, however, the franchise now thinks a fresh approach is needed to bring their 2019 campaign back on track," a Royals statement said. "Steve has always been part of the leadership team within RR and Rahane will continue to be a key voice in the side, therefore the Royals see this as a small restructuring process to secure the results required to move up the table."
Speaking at the toss ahead of the game against Mumbai Indians in Jaipur on Saturday afternoon, Smith said, "Ajinkya has done a terrific job over the last year and a half. The owners thought there should be a change in the leadership, and he'll be part of the leadership group as well."
Smith was expected to lead Royals last season, but they were forced to make a change when Smith stepped down as the Royals captain, following the ball-tampering ban imposed on him by Cricket Australia. Rahane was named captain as a result. The ban, which didn't prevent Smith from playing T20 leagues around the world, ended on March 29 this year and he has featured so far in seven of the eight matches Royals have played so far.
This will be the second time Smith will take up leadership duties following the ban, having led Comilla Victorians in the Bangladesh Premier League earlier this year. Royals are currently seventh on the points table with just two wins and just six matches left.
Incidentally, Smith was one of two senior players left out by Royals in their last match, against Kings XI Punjab. The former Australia captain has so far managed just 186 runs in seven innings, at a strike rate of 107.51 this season. Part of this has also been down to him batting largely out of position, at No. 4, instead of one spot higher, where he has made a bulk of his IPL runs for Royals in the past.
Rahane, who is India's Test vice-captain, led Royals in 23 matches between 2018 and 2019, winning nine of them. In contrast, Smith had led Royals to six wins in eight games when he was the interim captain in 2014 and 2015.
Rahane's success as top-order batsmen between 2012 and 2015 had prompted the franchise to promote him to the helm. During his captaincy phase in the last two seasons, as an opener, Rahane scored 455 runs in 16 innings at an average of 30.33 with two half-centuries. Rahane the opener, without the burden of captaincy weighing him down, has better numbers: 1923 runs in 58 innings at an average of 38.46, with 15 50-plus scores including a century.
The development might not have come entirely as a surprise to Rahane as insiders reveal Smith had been quietly taking charge of the field placements in their last few matches.