Heading into the 15th edition of the IPL 2022, not many gave Rajasthan Royals a chance to make it to the finals of the cash-rich league, given the inconsistent run they have had over the years ever since they won the inaugural edition in 2008.
Though they faltered in the final against the Gujarat Titans on Sunday but the manner in which they turned things around after 14 years is a matter of great interest. Half the battle for the Royals was won at the auctions itself as the management’s strategy to spend the majority of the purse on building a first eleven full of seasoned players, as is evident now, paid off.
Voicing the same after Rajasthan beat Royal Challengers Bangalore to have a shot at a second IPL title, RR’s Director of Cricket Kumar Sangakkara, said, “At the auction table, we spent 90-95% of our purse on putting together our first XI. We worked hard on data to work on the players we wanted. We put emphasis on experience at the moment. We have a spattering of youngsters who will become stars later, but our first XI has a strong share of seasoned internationals.
“Full credit to Giles Lindsay, our analyst, Zubin Barucha and the rest of the staff. Wins don’t just happen. It takes a lot of planning, hard work, execution on the field,” he added.
After having sorted its playing XI well in advance, or as was planned, it was just a matter of execution the management and the coaching staff had to divert their energies on.
Rajasthan Royals qualified for the final after beating Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in Qualifier 2 at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on 27 May to set up a final clash with Gujarat Titans.
Prior to the playoffs, the Royals had a decent campaign as they won nine out of the 14 matches, taking the second spot in the points table on the basis of a better NRR than Lucknow Super Giants.
After having a dominant start, RR lost momentum in the middle stage after they suffered defeats against Mumbai Indians, Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Capitals in a span of four games. However, they made a solid return to form to conclude the league stage with two wins on the trot against LSG and Chennai Super Kings respectively.
So what worked for a side that finished in the bottom-two spots in the last three seasons?
Jos Buttler’s extended dream run
With 863 runs in IPL 2022, Josh Buttler emerged not only as the highest run scorer but also as the most impactful player of the tournament. Rajasthan’s wins mostly hinged on his contributions. The Orange Cap holder, Buttler’s fiery starts helped Royals post a string of victories which dried up when the batter lost his touch midway in the tournament. But he rediscovered his form with a fighting knock against the Gujarat Titans in Qualifier 1.
However, that knock went in vain as Rajasthan ended on the losing side. Next in line to face the full fury of Buttler’s flashing blade in Qualifier 2 was RCB where he scored unbeaten 106 off 60 balls, his fourth hundred of the season, to guide his side to easy victory.
With his special innings, Buttler matched Virat Kohli for most hundreds in a single season. Kohli had achieved that feat in 2016.
Chahal led from the front
After retaining key stars Jos Buttler and Sanju Samson, Royals spent big on two Indian Spinners R Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal and reaped the benefit of such decisions throughout the league phases of the tournament. In 17 matches this season, the purple cap holder Chahal picked 27 wickets at an economy of 7.8 and a strike rate of 15.1. Chahal became the lone bowler to register a hat-trick and only among the three bowlers to pick a five-wicket haul this season. Both these feats came in a league match against Kolkata Knight Riders in career-best bowling figures of 4-0-40-5 at the Brabourne Stadium.
He only went wicket-less on three occasions, including the Qualifier 2 against the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Barring these blips, no one can take away from him the fact that he has been phenomenal in the first season for his third IPL franchise.
Chahal won the Purple Cap of IPL 2022 after claiming GT captain Hardik Pandya in the 14th over of the second innings in the final. He needed one wicket to overtake Royal Challengers Bangalore’s Wanindu Hasaranga’s tally of 26 wickets to achieve the feat. With this, he became only the third spinner and second Indian spinner to claim the Purple Cap.
R Ashwin delivered not only with the ball but also with the bat for the Rajasthan Royals. It was Ashwin’s debut season for the Royals and the Tamil Nadu cricketer proved his mettle with his all-round abilities. Until now, no franchise has utilised Ashwin’s batting talent as the Rajasthan Royals did. He was promoted up the order in the game against Chennai Super Kings and he won Royals the match.
Ashwin claimed 1/28 as he helped RR claw their way back into the game after CSK had blasted 75/1 in the powerplay. He then returned to contribute with the bat as well, scoring crucial unbeaten 40 runs off 23 balls as Rajasthan successfully chased 151 to secure a place in the playoffs.
Ashwin also became only the eighth bowler and second off-spinner in the history of the IPL to complete 150 wickets.
Sanju Samson the captain and the batter
Sanju Samson led Rajasthan Royals into top 2 after the league stage, only the second time the franchise made it that far in the history of IPL. Not only did his calm and composed demeanour impress as a leader, his proactive approach, surety in decision-making, and the way he rotated his bowlers also made a lot of noise.
As far as his batting is concerned, Sanju scored 458 runs from 17 matches at an average of 28.63 runs with two half-centuries. While there was never any doubt about his abilities, Sanju failed to convert good starts into big scores. In some games, he showed glimpses of good form but then lost his wicket at crucial junctures. This might have also played on selectors’ mind as he was overlooked for the T20I home series against South Africa starting next month.
Samson was named Rajasthan Royals captain following the release of Steve Smith ahead of IPL 2021.
Newly-stitched bowling attack
Rajasthan Royals was one of the teams that boasted of a ‘complete bowling attack’. It was a good mix of experienced international players, genuine Indian quicks and youngsters. What was unique about the attack was that it was created from the scratch.
The core bowling attack comprising Trent Boult, Prasidh Krishna, Yuzvendra Chahal, and R Ashwin were all playing for different franchises before they were inducted into the Royals camp while Obed McCoy made his IPL debut for the franchise this season.
To get such an attack to gel together and complement each other was the highlight for the franchise. Having Lasith Malinga as the bowling coach by their side was an added bonus, given his exploits in the shortest format of the game.
What next for Royals?
Though the Royals mostly did everything right, they would want to build on the team for the future. With their bowling line up more or less sorted, they would want more from the specialist batters other than Jos Buttler and Sanju Samson, especially the young Riyan Parag.
After the final on Sunday at the post-match press conference, Sangakkara did mention how he would actively work towards fixing the batting order.
“I think we have got a lot of improvement to do in all areas really,” he said.
“If you really take our batting, we had huge contributions from Jos, contributions from Sanju, and Shimron Hetmyer in the early stages. Riyan and Devdutt (Padikkal) played well in patches, but in terms of overall performance, we need a little bit from the support-role players.” he added.
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