Homeless Royals eye sustained intensity
Last season, the constant reshuffling within the team cost Rajasthan Royals a spot in the playoffs. This season, with select buys and key players in form, they will look for a better finish in the table
Likely first XI
1 Ajinkya Rahane, 2 Karun Nair, 3 Steven Smith, 4 Sanju Samson (wk), 5 Shane Watson (capt), 6 Stuart Binny, 7 James Faulkner, 8 Chris Morris/Tim Southee/Juan Theron, 9 Rajat Bhatia, 10 Pravin Tambe, 11 Dhawal Kulkarni
for the full squad
Botched up a strong start to finish fifth.
For a team that has often delivered more than promised, Rajasthan Royals left fans exasperated at the end of the last season. Royals usually build themselves up incrementally, hitting top gear as the tournament reaches the business end, but when they sprinted to six wins in nine games - they were ahead of eventual champions Kolkata Knight Riders at that stage - a place in the knockouts seemed within reach. They didn't, however, qualify. In the last league game against Mumbai, despite the insurance of a tall total behind them, their bowlers wilted en masse.
The story of their 2014 campaign wasn't so much about implosion as the effect of relentlessly shuffling personnel: 22 players took the field for Royals, the highest for any team last year. Add to this the less-than-optimal utilisation of Steven Smith and James Faulkner, and you can see how a promising plot went kaput.
They were typically prudent with their budget in the 2015 auction, finishing with an unspent sum of Rs 10.65 crore (approx. $1.77 million) from the allotted purse of Rs 63 crore.
Paddy Upton, the side's head coach, said Chris Morris
, Royals' costliest buy at Rs 1.4 crore (approx $233,000), was acquired for his all-round skills and to enable his pairing with another allrounder, James Faulkner. With the ball, Morris produced a record
performance for Lions in the Ram Slam T20 last year. With captain Shane Watson and Stuart Binny playing all-round roles as well, Morris' inclusion leaves Royals "with lots of options." They have also brought in two legspinners in Dinesh Salunkhe and Pardeep Sahu, recognising that such bowlers are becoming a "valuable asset in this format."
Since their victory in the inaugural edition, they haven't done enough to consistently be serious contenders for the title, and this year is another opportunity at correcting that. To do so, they will need a versatile unit, especially with them not playing in Jaipur for the second year in succession; their home fixtures have instead been drawn up at two venues: the Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad and the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai.
Last season, Smith was seen as an exciting batting talent, whose breathtaking attempts on the field made for great highlight reels. This season, he returns to the IPL on the back of a remarkable run of form. In the past year, he has scored 2096 runs in 31 international matches across formats at 69.86, including eight hundreds. During this period, he captained Australia's Test side and was also the leading run-scorer (402 at an average of 67, including an unbeaten fifty in the final) in their victorious World Cup campaign. The Royals management would likely want him to take ownership of the No.3 spot, and replicate the success he has had for Australia in the position.
Like Smith, Faulkner, too, has enhanced his credentials over the last two years. His audacious finishing skills with the bat and slippery back-of-the-hand deliveries make him important to the team's balance. There were question-marks over his death-bowling skills last year - his economy rate of 9.74 was the poorest in the team - but he has strengthened this area in recent times.
Juan Theron had a memorable IPL debut, producing a nerveless spell to bowl Kings XI Punjab to a victory against Chennai Super Kings. A seasoned player in the T20 format with strong death-bowling skills, Theron's inclusion at Rs 30 lakh ($50,000) looks like a smart deal.
Kane Richardson has opted out of the IPL citing personal reasons. Tim Southee will miss the last phase of the tournament with New Zealand touring England in May.
Mentor - Rahul Dravid, Head coach - Paddy Upton, Director of cricket - Zubin Bharucha, Coach - Monty Desai
"When we pick players, we look a lot at their Ranji Trophy performance as well. Of course there are specific T20 skills that we are looking for but we also want to see hunger, we also want to see consistency and we also want to see somebody who can deliver under pressure."
Rahul Dravid on what his franchise looks for in potential recruits
Arun Venugopal is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo