A Season Cut Short: Reviewing the Efforts of the Rajasthan Royals

Indeed, IPL 2021 has met a premature end. Due to the spiralling COVID-19 situation in India, and within the bio-bubble, it was simply untenable to continue. The players are heading home, and speculation about finishing the season is still up in the air. Given that exactly half the season has gone by, I figured it might be possible to try and evaluate how my dear Rajasthan Royals have fared.

Looking the Part

In my eyes, the Rajasthan Royals are always the winner. It is simply impossible to look that good and not be.

In a poll with the whopping sample size of my four friends, the Royals’ jersey came no lower than second place in a ranking of IPL jerseys (with three putting it in 1st).

Yes, Rajasthan set the tone early with their jersey for this season. Keeping their rather fetching blue and pink combo, Rajasthan went one step further this year with their choice of block print to pay tribute to a range of fantastic causes. This includes raising awareness of mental health struggles, supporting the LGBTQ+ community, water conservation, and job creation for women.

Sports teams have a unique ability to reach millions of people, with that should come a level of social conscious. Even if it’s something as simple as a kit design, it is nice to see an IPL team drawing attention to issues which often sport shies away from such as menstrual health.

On a more personal note, I was overjoyed to see Rajasthan make their shirts and training gear available in the UK this season. At an unspecified point in May, when the IPL has been long dormant, I will get the joy of rocking the blue and pink on a fun jaunt to Sainsbury’s.

Conclusion:

  1. Brilliant kit
  2. Good causes
  3. Room for improvement – sell the pink wide brim hats

Bowling Backup

When Jofra Archer pulled out of the IPL, expectations for Rajasthan lowered considerably. As arguably the best player in the 2020 edition, Jofra comes as close to being irreplaceable as possible. To make matters worse, Ben Stokes breaking his hand and having to leave the tournament took with him the ability to bowl handy overs. Rajasthan had a problem.

In came two new Overseas bowlers to lead the attack, with an assortment of young support bowlers to round out the line-up. It was not quite the bowling crew that RR had intended to begin with, but nevertheless it was the one that they had to make do with.

Whilst the impact of Archer could never be replaced, the Royals actually did a solid enough job with what they had.

As the big money buy, pressure fell onto the broad shoulders of Chris Morris. After RCB very questionably let him go after a stellar 2020 season, Rajasthan saw him as the perfect deputy to Jofra Archer. Now the deputy had received an unexpected promotion.

Game by game, Morris was beginning to pick up some form. Finishing on 14 wickets, Morris had the joint second most in the IPL.

Similarly, Mustafizur Rahman was purchased to be a handy back-up option. Whilst playing every game was not on the cards, ‘The Fizz’ did not disappoint. With his unusually mobile wrists, Mustafizur collected 8 wickets in 7 games.

All in all, the OS bowlers rose to the occasion.

Where the most fun came, was in the performance of the Indian seamers.

Chetan Sakariya makes cricket look as fun as you want it to be. Take a catch? Beaming smile. Bowl a wide? Wry grin. Standing in the field? Still happy.

It’s not just that Sakariya looks happy to be there, the young man can also be proud of his performance. Chetan took wickets, and rarely looked out of his depth. In many ways, this is one of the most enjoyable parts of the IPL. As a competition, it has the capability of changing not just the careers of young players, but their lives too. In the space of 24 balls, you can become a household name for the week. This is, in all fairness, one of the best aspects of the Royals franchise. Taking chances on youth can bring pain and brings a natural level of risk with it. Rajasthan try to find the upside in it.

Similarly, the first half of the 2021 season provided something of a catharsis for a couple of other players. After a rough campaign in 2020, Jaydev Unadkat found himself on the end of a hefty amount of criticism. This season, Unadkat showed he can still take wickets. Similarly, Kartik Tyagi in his sole appearance against Sunrisers Hyderabad showed that he can still bring his unique qualities to the Royals. Tyagi is capable of bowling absolute rockets. With age and experience, he shall hopefully be able to refine his control and skills even further.

Conclusion:

  1. Strong showing from OS seamers
  2. Sakariya one of the finds of the tournament
  3. Parag side-arm bowling always entertains
  4. Room for improvement- The Return of the Jof

Whacking the Ball

At its heart, T20 cricket is about scoring big and clearing the boundary rope. How did Rajasthan perform in this field?

In truth, it was a mixed bag.

There was some clear room for improvement. First and foremost, Rajasthan initially struggled with their opening partnership. Initially it was Stokes and Vohra, then it was Buttler and Vohra, finally it was Buttler and Jaiswal.

The first change was due to Stokes’ injury, the second due to Vohra’s form. In essence, Vohra was struggling to score, and had a habit of getting out playing questionable strokes. Multiple times, Vohra got out by mistiming a shot and chipping the ball high into the air for an easy catch.

What did not help matters, was that Jos Buttler was also struggling a bit for form. Buttler was struggling to time his shots, and teams seemed to have figured out that a ball angling in was causing him some trouble. The problem for Rajasthan is that the fortune of Jos Buttler often reflects the fortune of the team.

On top of the opening struggles, the middle order were guilty of not being at their best. There were good knocks here and there, but often a failure to really get going.

To this point, I have been wholly negative about the batting. The good news, is that it was not all bad.

For one, team captain Sanju Samson looked to be developing nicely into the player that we all know he can be. In the past, Samson has been guilty of scoring big, then playing poorly for several games, then scoring big again. In 2021, Samson was showing the ability to produce consistently. Starting the season with 119 runs against PBKS, Samson, by the suspension of the IPL, was on a streak of three consecutive scores of 40+.

Producing consistently would raise Samson’s star by several levels. It would see off his detractors’ chief criticism, and make him an even greater threat to teams than he already is.

Similarly, the top order was beginning to sort itself out.

In the place of Vohra, came Yashasvi Jaiswal. Jaiswal played exactly as you would hope that a 19-year-old would. Immediately, Jaiswal played with aggression and intent that you hope your openers have. On a developmental level, it must also have been brilliant to play with Jos Buttler at the other end. Before the players left, Buttler gifted Jaiswal a signed bat. It serves as a sweet reminder that so many young players are not yet that different from us fans. Indeed, Jaiswal is one for the future.

Speaking of Jos Buttler, he’d never just sign off from the IPL without making his mark. On Saturday morning, Buttler opened against Sunrisers Hyderabad in need of a big score. In the Powerplay, he scored around a run a ball. He was even granted a reprieve as SRH dropped him off Rashid Khan’s leg-spin. It didn’t have the hallmarks of a classic. To paraphrase some generic clickbait, you won’t believe what happened next.

Buttler went crazy. After a slow start, Buttler ended up on 124 (64), the highest score of this edition of the IPL. The score was made up of 19 boundaries (11 fours and 8 sixes). It was also a highlight reel of peak Buttler. Once again, spinners learn that anything short-ish to Buttler will get hoiked towards Cow Corner for six.

It very much was a high point to finish on.

Conclusion:

  1. Samson growing in consistency
  2. Buttler showed his very best
  3. Room for improvement- Still prone to scoring too slowly, struggle to bat first and set a big score

More to Come?

When Archer and Stokes got injured, it became a popular opinion that Rajasthan and their lovely kit would serve as the floral carpet on the floor of the IPL table. This did not happen.

Rajasthan sit at 5th in the suspended table, within touching distance of the Play-Off spots. Let’s think hypothetically.

Looking at the current schedule, the IPL may resume around September before the World T20. There are not many adequate gaps, and it also depends heavily on the state of India. One suggestion is to finish it in the UAE.

If this does happen, Rajasthan have a sneakily strong chance to crack the top 4. In essence, the return of Jofra Archer may revolutionise them. He would be returning to a stronger bowling attack than the one he left behind.

In the absence of two star players, Rajasthan have been true to their nature and punched somewhat above their weight. If the season ends up resuming, then one would think that the only way is up.

Even if the season is terminated, there is a lot to be proud of this year for the Rajasthan Royals. In a time where they were written off by many, they have hung in there and fought hard.

The Royals refused to quietly sink to the bottom. Success may not be as far out of reach as it was initially thought to be.

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