The key questions facing the existing franchises as they look to firm up their retentions
Royals have a history of thriving on a “Moneyball” strategy of budget-conscious buying, and for picking largely unknown talents and backing them. Over the years they have unearthed such names as Ravindra Jadeja, Sanju Samson and Yusuf Pathan. However, they have also made some of the biggest purchases of them all. They bought England allrounder Ben Stokes for Rs 12.5 crores (about US$1.7 million) and India left-arm fast bowler Jaydev Unadkat for Rs 11.5 crore ($1.6m), both in 2018. Ahead of the 2021 season, they bought South Africa allrounder Chris Morris for Rs 16.25 crore ($ 2.2m).
Shane Warne led in Royals’ victorious first season, and up until 2011, following which Rahul Dravid took over for two years. Shane Watson then captained briefly before handing over to Steven Smith in 2014. When Smith was banned for ball-tampering in 2018, Ajinkya Rahane replaced him as captain. Smith returned to lead in 2019, but after two poor seasons, Royals released him ahead of the 2021 auction and named Sanju Samson the captain for the season.
The fairy-tale win in 2008 is what the franchise is best remembered for. That and for largely staying true to their vision of promoting and giving opportunities to a number of young, unknown talents over the years.
Royals have not been short on controversy over the years - the most serious of which was in the wake of three players, Sreesanth, Ajay Chandila and Ankeet Chavan, being arrested for spot-fixing. Following the report of the Lodha Committee, which was set up to look into the workings of the BCCI in the wake of the scandal, the board banned the franchise for two years, and one of its owners, Raj Kundra, for life. They also failed to make the playoffs for the third year in a row.
Described as underdogs coming into the tournament, RR made headlines with a spectacular run, winning 11 out of 14 games in the group stage. Standout efforts from Watson, Sohail Tanvir, Pathan, and the captain, Warne, all through the season helped them lift the trophy, defeating MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings in the final.
Royals were without two of their best players from the previous year: Tanvir was ineligible after the BCCI banned Pakistani players from taking part in the IPL, and Watson missed out due to Australia commitments. They dropped seven players in the middle of the tournament, and finished with seven losses.
Pathan set the stage on fire in Royals’ season opener against Mumbai Indians, hitting the fastest IPL hundred at the time, off 37 balls, but his team fell short by four runs. They lost the next two games as well, but then had four wins on the trot, before losing five out of their next seven matches and finishing second from last on the table.
In what proved to be their last season under Warne, Royals started with a series of wins but were then derailed by heavy losses, including four in a row in the latter half of the group stage. They had Rahul Dravid, Ross Taylor and Paul Collingwood in their ranks, and had managed to buy back Shaun Tait, but they still only won six matches out of 14.
Another dismal season, with seven wins in 16 matches, though Ajinkya Rahane shone for the team. He scored a 66-ball 98 in the season opener and then 103 off 60 in a group game against Royal Challengers Bangalore, finishing with 560 runs in 16 matches for the season.
RR made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Watson, the Player of the Tournament for his 543 runs in 16 games, played a major role in their qualifying for the playoffs, where they won the eliminator against Sunrisers Hyderabad but lost to Mumbai Indians in the second qualifier.
Royals retained Samson, Rahane, Watson, James Faulkner and Stuart Binny, and bought Smith, Tim Southee, Karun Nair, Dhawal Kulkarni and Abhishek Nayar at the auction. Dravid stayed on as a mentor after retiring as a player. Royals ended up missing out on a playoffs spot due to a narrow net run rate difference with Mumbai Indians.
The team enjoyed their strongest start, with five straight wins. However, their momentum was thwarted by a few losses in the middle and a couple of abandoned matches. They still managed to finish in the top four but eventually lost in the eliminator to Royal Challengers Bangalore.
They returned from suspension but had a topsy-turvy season under Rahane. There were some brilliant individual performances but their two biggest buys – Jaydev Unadkat and Stokes - failed to live up to their price tag, and RR crashed out of the playoffs in the eliminator against Kolkata Knight Riders, losing by 25 runs.
Going into the tournament, there were questions over Rahane’s position as captain and his middle-order spot. Royals stuttered again with five losses in their first six games, before Smith came in to lead midway through. Shreyas Gopal and Jofra Archer impressed, but Stokes’ returns were modest, and the team finished at No. 7 for the third time in their history.
Royals started well with wins in their first two games, but slumped after that, winning only four of their next 12 matches and finishing last on the table. Apart from Jofra Archer’s consistent brilliance with the ball and a few extraordinary individual performances, there was little to celebrate.
Yet another disappointing season, with just five wins in 14 games. They were without two of their biggest names, Archer and Stokes, for the entire tournament, and their other mainstay, Jos Buttler, also pulled out of the UAE leg. They could never find the right combination as a result, and the captain, Samson, was left to do most of the work in the batting department.
Watson was the player of the tournament in Royals’ successful first season, and he played for them until 2015, scoring 2372 runs, picking up 61 wickets, and starring in many of the team’s wins. When he retired from the game after the 2020 season, he was still No. 2 on Royals’ run-makers list and No. 1 on their wicket-takers list.Ajinkya Rahane
Rahane was picked by Royals as an uncapped player in 2011 and has since become their top scorer, with 3098 runs from 106 matches. Royals bought him back in 2018 when they returned from their ban, after his two seasons with Rising Pune Supergiant, but he had poor returns over the next couple of years and was released ahead of the 2020 auction.Sanju Samson
The franchise bought Samson in 2013, when he was 18, and he immediately impressed with the bat and behind the stumps. He performed consistently in the next two seasons, and was signed again after the franchise’s return from their ban. He has continued to be one of the mainstays of RR’s batting. In 2021, his best season so far, he scored 484 runs in 14 games.Steven Smith
Smith was given the captaincy midway through the 2015 season, in which he led the side to the playoffs. After three years away due to bans, he took the captaincy again in 2019. A number of young players came to the fore under Smith but he endured a poor two seasons as batter and captain and was released by the franchise ahead of the 2021 auction.