You look at Rajasthan Royals (RR) and they are hardly ever the favourites. There’s hardly anyone giving them a chance to reach the playoffs. When IPL predictions are made, there’s barely anyone picking them in their choice of teams that can make it to the top four.
More often than not, the 2008 IPL champions have punched above their weight. They hardly had any big superstars and they just played as a team, as one unit, together. However, that was until 2015 before their ban. Once they returned from a forced two-year hiatus, things have changed.
Yes, their return wasn’t as celebrated or in the spotlight like Chennai Super Kings (CSK). But RR didn’t hold back either. They spent big money in the auction, something they rarely did before. They bought big superstars and built a team around them. There’s a lot more buzz around Rajasthan Royals (RR) now than before.
Despite all this, still there’s hardly anyone that rates them highly. There’s barely any bets placed on them to make it to the top four or even talk about them in the off season like they do for teams like Mumbai Indians (MI), Chennai Super Kings (CSK) or even Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). Why is that? Is it because of the lack of big Indian superstars? Or is RR plainly all about their overseas stars or to be more specific, is it the England players that define RR?
There’s no doubt that there’s been a big shift and difference between the pre-ban Rajasthan Royals and post-ban Rajasthan Royals. But a large part of their squad revolves around the England players. In the first few years, RR hardly had any England players in their line-up. Yes, England players were few and far in the IPL in the early years of the 2010s-decade yet, they didn’t really have any except an odd one here and there like Owais Shah or Dimitri Mascarenhas.
However, for the last couple of seasons, England players have played a huge role in the way the RR XI or line-up shapes up. Take a look at RR’s overseas players. Since 2018, 50% of the overseas stars are England players. Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer form a huge part of the RR setup. In fact, RR seems slightly incomplete without them. In addition to the England international trio is skipper Steve Smith.
This quartet just walks into the XI straightaway. Irrespective of their form, each one of them just has to start in every game they are available. There are hardly any second thoughts about it. You take these players out, you are simply yanking the Rajasthan Royals heart out.
Jos Buttler is the absolute key at the top of the order. In fact, he defines the RR batting line-up and his form has played a huge role in RR’s success or failure over the last couple of seasons. He hasn’t had a fixed opening partner but he goes about his business in his style and continues on his merry way.
Ben Stokes may not have performed up to expectation and hasn’t had the kind of impact he showed in his debut season in 2017. Yet, you simply cannot leave him out. He is Ben Stokes. He can turn a game on its head at any given time, he can pull the team out of the dumps and is an inspirational cricketer. There’s nothing that he cannot do on a cricket field.
Jofra Archer is the latest England pace sensation. He may not take wickets in clusters but still can have a significant impact on the game. His skill across formats is one of the best going around in world cricket.
Last year, RR had Liam Livingstone as a backup option and this year, they’ve roped in Tom Curran. The England pace bowler who can tonk the ball a long way could well be looked upon as a backup for Jofra Archer. He may not be there in terms of pace but Curran is a decent T20 player. He has quite a few variations and can be very handy lower down the order with the bat.
A large chunk of RR’s firepower lies in the England players. Take a look at the last couple of years. In 2018, after Stokes and Buttler left the tournament midway to join the England team ahead of the Test series against Pakistan, RR struggled. RR did win one game without them as that helped them make it to the playoffs. It was Shreyas Gopal’s brilliance along with a collective bowling performance that helped RR win that decisive game against RCB. But in the playoffs, they were eliminated in the first game and that’s where the absence of the England duo (Buttler and Stokes) was felt.
However, things were different in 2019. RR simply had a bad season. Despite having the best of overseas firepower, they couldn’t make it big. They lost five out of their first six games. They did play well but it was a case of them not getting over the line consistently. But a shift in captaincy from Ajinkya Rahane to Steve Smith did change some bit of fortune. The England players couldn’t do much either and they were constantly in and out of the side with international assignments and the 2019 World Cup in radar and they had to head back to England early.
It’s tough to say whether Rajasthan Royals are all about their English players. There’s absolutely no that can be identified as the heart and the driving engine of the squad. England players occupy a large chunk of the overseas slots as well. But it may just not be solely on them. Steve Smith plays a crucial role too. If not with the bat, his leadership and captaincy did make a difference towards the end of last season. Under the former Australian skipper, RR won three out of four games.
Yes, it is a fact that RR tend to struggle without the England stars. That would be the case for any team. But this time it could be a tad different. They seem to have enough firepower and quality backups. Yashasvi Jaiswal’s inclusion adds some depth to the top-order batting while David Miller’s inclusion adds some firepower lower down the order. There’s the veteran Robin Uthappa as well. Kartik Tyagi and Akash Singh are a part of an exciting young crop of Indian pacers and they boast an already solid pace attack.
Rajasthan Royals look a lot more rounded and balanced but England players continue to play a huge part. And if they are taken out due to any reason, it does affect their balance big time. It forces them to shake things up and restructure most of the line-up.