In this series, we compile all-time XIs for each IPL team. The rules are simple: the player has to have played at least 20 matches for the franchise (across the IPL and the Champions League T20); one player is eligible for selection in multiple franchises if he so merits, and you can pick only four overseas players.
Rajasthan Royals have never quite managed to recapture the highs of 2008, but they'll forever be known as the IPL's inaugural champions. That 2008 triumph was as unlikely on paper, as it was inspiring in practice. The franchise had spent the least amount at that 2008 auction, and through a mixture of design, cricketing smarts and good fortune, hit upon a winning combination. However, the Royals haven't quite lived up to the somewhat lazy billing of being the 'Moneyball' team of the IPL. Their best showing since 2008 came ironically enough in 2013, the year that fixing allegations tore through the IPL and eventually led to two-season suspensions for both Royals and Chennai Super Kings.
One thing they have continued to do through the seasons is be among the most judicious money-spenders in the league. Their overseas picks have often been hidden gems, but where they have fallen short is among the Indian talent.
Shane Watson was the automatic first pick, becoming one of the rare players who commands a spot in two all-time franchise XIs, having earlier made the cut for CSK. Shane Warne had to be there too, an automatic pick for captaincy as well as for his bowling. Sanju Samson was among the Royals' "finds" and has consistently done well for the franchise. Ajinkya Rahane is their most capped player, and while Yusuf Pathan played only the first three seasons for them, the impact he made in that time meant he became the Royals' second two-franchises player, having earned a spot in the KKR XI too.
There was plenty to debate about who would fill the remaining spots for the Royals. One of the decisions we had to make was in picking only one among Brad Hodge and Jos Buttler. In an ideal world, both would have made it. But Watson and Warne already occupy two immovable overseas spots and one more was needed for the bowling. Eventually, given that the Royals have had very few capable batsmen below No. 4, the spot went to Hodge. In terms of stats, Buttler's 859 runs at 47.72 with a strike rate of 153.94 are excellent by any standard. They are also superior to Hodge's 748 runs at 39.36 and a strike rate of 143.84 - but Hodge's numbers are from 2012 to 2014, while Buttler's are for the last two years, when the T20 game itself has changed radically. Moreover, Buttler has batted at the top of the order. When Hodge was scoring those runs for the Royals, very few batsmen could marry an average touching 40 with a run-rate of nine per over while batting lower down the order - and he did it consistently.
Why both couldn't make it to the team becomes more evident with one simple fact: the highest wicket-taker for the Royals in their history has been Watson, who has 67 wickets. Warne, who played only till 2011 is third on the list with 58 wickets. That's poor for a franchise that has played 10 seasons. The lack of a proper pace spearhead meant we picked Jofra Archer to lead the attack. James Faulkner was a consideration, but he faded rather rapidly after a splendid debut season in 2013. In 2014 and 2015, his economy rate was 9.60 and his average was 44.47. Having played 21 matches for the franchise, Archer qualifies - just. Ideally, we would have liked to have a bowler who has weathered more seasons, but the paucity of options meant Archer was fast-tracked. If this exercise is repeated in 2030, there is no doubt Archer would probably walk into the team because he has the potential to string together several successful seasons. In 2020, his inclusion feels a bit rushed, but is necessary.
The main contenders for the Indian spinner's spot were Shreyas Gopal and Pravin Tambe. Gopal won out given his superior batting and fielding abilities, as also his remarkable knack of dismissing top opposition batsmen. (He's got AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli seven times in four games against RCB). While leggies are always welcome in most T20 teams, with Warne already there, including both would have been too much of a good thing.
The inclusions of Siddharth Trivedi, Rahul Dravid and Stuart Binny were driven by performances and roles. Trivedi is second on the Royals' wicket-takers' list, between Watson and Warne, and he's done that while being canny enough to not let runs overflow. Dravid and Rahane together in a T20 side might not be ideal, but he was the best available option among those remaining. He'll play the role of a floater, going up the order in case of early wickets, but slotting in behind the likes of Hodge and Pathan if limited time is left in the innings. Binny's performances for the Royals have been steady, veering into very good, and at one point of time, he gave them a regular end-overs blast-off while batting with Hodge. His all-round ability also lends balance.
The team has the speed of Archer, along with Watson, and the canny medium-pace of Trivedi and Binny. Two leggies in Warne and Gopal are complemented by Pathan's occasional off-spin, and with Warne slotted in at No. 10, there is at least reasonable batting depth.
Playing XI stats for Rajasthan Royals
1. Shane Watson
84 matches (2008-2015)
Runs 2474, Ave 35.85, SR 140.16
Wickets 67, Ave 27.83, ER 7.55