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Feature

Death bowling could be a worry for Rajasthan Royals

They have the option to play Nathan Coulter-Nile instead of James Neesham, but that would weaken their batting

Sanju Samson's fine form continues as he acknowledges the applause for his fifty, Rajasthan Royals vs Sunrisers Hyderabad, Dubai, IPL 2021, September 27, 2021

Sanju Samson was one of the bright spots for Rajasthan Royals in the 2021 season  •  BCCI

Where they finished in 2021

They failed to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season, finishing seventh with five wins in 14 matches.

Potential first XI

1 Yashasvi Jaiswal, 2 Jos Buttler, 3 Devdutt Padikkal, 4 Sanju Samson (capt, wk), 5 Shimron Hetmyer, 6 Riyan Parag, 7 James Neesham/Nathan Coulter-Nile, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Yuzvendra Chahal, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Prasidh Krishna

Batting

Royals are likely to go with a mix of youth and experience at the top of the order and opt for the left-right combination of Yashasvi Jaiswal and Jos Buttler - both of whom were retained ahead of the mega auction. This would mean Devdutt Padikkal, one of the new entrants who is coming off two superb seasons with Royal Challengers Bangalore, is likely to bat at No. 3 instead of his usual opening position. With two big hitters in captain Sanju Samson and Shimron Hetmyer to come in next, their top order looks power-packed. And they have Riyan Parag and James Neesham to further bolster their line-up.
Royals have been marred by inconsistency with the bat, and have resorted to constant chopping and changing, which has been one of their biggest issues in the last few seasons. They've had several individual performers but haven't always been able to click as a unit. So this time, they will be keen to pin down batting positions. The team will be one to watch out for if the top five play true to their ability.
There is also a bit of pressure on Parag - whom they bought back in the auction despite his lukewarm performances in the last two seasons - to step up in the role of finisher.
If required, they also have the option of slotting in Rassie van der Dussen, who has been in sublime form across white-ball formats for South Africa in the last year.

Bowling

One of the biggest pluses for Royals at the auction was their putting together of a strong Indian core, with the additions of R Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal in the bowling department being key to this. Given their experience, the two will be expected to keep the opposition in check in the middle overs.
They also have a potent new-ball duo in Prasidh Krishna - their most expensive buy (INR 10 crore) at the auction - and New Zealand's Trent Boult to handle the powerplay.
One point of worry could be their death bowling. They have the option of playing Nathan Coulter-Nile instead of Neesham at No. 7 to bring some control at the death. But that would weaken their batting. They'll want to take some notes from Lasith Malinga, their newly appointed fast-bowling coach, and one of the best death bowlers in T20 history, to prevent those issues.

Young player to watch out for

That Yashasvi Jaiswal was one of three players to be retained by the franchise should say a lot about his calibre. The top-order batter who rose to prominence with his U-19 performances was snapped up by the franchise in 2020. He was given a chance to open that season, and while he impressed with his cameos in the second half of IPL 2021, a return of 289 runs at 22.23 over two seasons, with a strike rate of 136.32, suggests he hasn't found consistency yet. If he can add that ingredient this season, he will have repaid the management's faith in his ability.

Coaching staff

Kumar Sangakkara (head coach and director of cricket), Lasith Malinga (fast-bowling coach), Steffan Jones (high-performance fast-bowling coach), Paddy Upton (team catalyst), Trevor Penney (assistant coach), Zubin Bharucha (strategy, development and performance director), Dishant Yagnik (fielding coach)

Poll

Sruthi Ravindranath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo