IPL preview - Rajasthan Royals
Will we see a change of approach for Rajasthan this season? They’ve often been a franchise that has prioritised sustainability and long-term planning over immediate success. Planning for wins in the long-term is all well and good but those have to come eventually and for Rajasthan, that hasn’t happened. They only reached the plays offs once in four seasons in the last auction cycle and had the lowest win percentage of any IPL side in that four year period:
A pretty poor effort from a franchise that was known for it’s excellent use of data during the earlier days of the IPL. Indeed, their (only) title win in the inaugural IPL season was one of the most iconic. They were predicted to finish bottom by all the so-called experts and commentators after spending $2.9m at the first auction, this was over $2m less than the allocated $5m budget for each team. Despite that, they took advantage of inefficiencies in the market and a generally a far lower quality of scouting/recruitment than we see these days. The edge for base-level recruitment like this has diminished over the years and Rajasthan have found themselves wanting.
Eager to bring back success they’ve made a whole host of changes in recent seasons, including bringing the likes of Kumar Sangakkara and Lasith Malinga onboard, while Sanju Samson remains as captain, beginning his second season in charge.
Retained players: Sanju Samson, Jos Buttler & Yashasvi Jaiswal.
Availability issues: As far as I’m aware, they don’t have any.
With no slight on the quality of these players that Rajasthan retained, it was slightly surprising to see them retain three batters, given bowling has been a far bigger issue for them in recent seasons. They haven’t been great with bat or ball, but it’s bowling that’s been the biggest issue and by a distance:
It’s not like they’ve had a stronger suit in terms of spin or pace either, both departments were well below the tournament average. It’s undeniable that Rajasthan have just been categorically bad with the ball in recent IPL seasons.
However, there’s a caveat, in the sense that you could argue that in the absence of Jofra Archer, who misses this tournament through injury, they didn’t really have any bowlers that were worthy of a retention anyway. Archer was just so far clear of the rest:
An argument could’ve been made for Chetan Sakariya, who performed relatively well for them last season or exciting pace bowler - Kartik Tyagi. Although you can’t bash them too much for choosing not to retain either of these two.
If you want this discussed in more detail, I wrote an article on it pre-auction:
Rajasthan Royals - Auction Possibilities
Note - In preparation for writing this I re-read the chapter 'Moneyball 2.0' in Hitting Against The Spin and listened…
I’m thankful, that unlike some other teams, Rajasthan look to have a fairly predictable XI, with perhaps only once place in the team up for grabs. This is how I think they’ll line up:
The spot that’s up for grabs is the final overseas spot, which at one point, no one had any idea who Rajasthan were going to go for. In the search for a ‘number 7’ they seemingly let everyone who would’ve fit that criteria slide past on day, before a blitz of four overseas signings in the last ten minutes gave them some different options heading into the season. As far as I’m concerned there are three options for this final overseas spot; Nathan Coulter-Nile, Obed McCoy and Jimmy Neesham.
I would go with Nathan Coulter-Nile initially, though he certainly isn’t the player he once was, it probably gives them the most balance. I could definitely see Rajasthan going with Neesham but that’s probably not something I’d consider, I think I’d prefer to go bowling-heavy, by playing Obed McCoy with Ashwin batting at 7, instead of playing Neesham.
The talk pre-auction was about going all out for immediate success, has that happened?
Well, at the very least, it looks like a change of strategy. Rajasthan could potentially have five players over the age of 30 in their line up, which is all-but unheard of for them. If you read the start of the article I linked above, you would see they’ve almost aways erred towards building a younger squad. While the impact of age isn’t always the easiest to measure in t20’s, I think there’s certainly value in having players like Chahal, Ashwin and Boult, who have considerable IPL experience and still have the ability to compete at this level.
Crucially though, to go with the experience, they still have some exciting young players in their sides, particularly in the batting department, as well as a couple of key players that should be in their peak. Overall, they certainly look to have gone down the route of ‘more experience’ but the balance still looks okay and not too heavily weighted either way.
Batting - In general, it just looks like a very well-built batting line up. Whether it’s the mixture of youth & experience, the left hand/right hand combinations or the variety in the strengths of each player, it just looks extremely balanced and whoever played a big part in making it happen, deserves some recognition.
A couple of key points in regards to this; firstly, the Padikkal move was completely unexpected. After retaining Buttler, Jaiswal and Samson, many, including me, thought that was their top three locked in for the season. It was certainly a curveball when Rajasthan decided to bid for and then purchase Padikkal for 7.75cr, I’m a huge fan of the player, I just wasn’t expecting him to end up at RR. Initially, I was apprehensive, concerned that an opening partnership of Buttler & Jaiswal might be broken up. I’m not sure if the two of them even batted together last season but on paper, it looks like a brilliant partnership. With the way Jaiswal batted last season when he came into the team, a breath of fresh air and a maniac in the powerplay, it’ll allow Buttler - a world class opener in his own right to play it as he sees it, without having to worry about being too aggressive from ball one. This leaves Padikkal to bat at three and Samson at 4, which again, almost looks perfect. Padikkal has been secure against spin in the last two seasons:
The strike rate isn’t mind blowing but given the conditions, to be that secure, while also striking at the tournament average is a good achievement for a 21 year old. The fact that he struggled to take advantage of the powerplay suggests that number 3 could be his optimal position at IPL level for now.
I’m also a fan of Samson at 4, who is one of the most well-rounded IPL batters:
Samson is probably closest to the ideal top-right corner when it comes to scoring quickly against both spin and non-spin. The number 4 position should suit him to a tee.
It also makes them less top-heavy, which has arguably been a problem more recently and it has made it tricky for Samson to find the balance between attack and defence. Added to this, they’ve got Hetmyer and Parag at 5 & 6. Hetmyer has done well in the last couple of seasons batting in a slightly lower position, compared to where he bats in other competitions and it seems to have got the best out of him. I’m also a huge fan of Parag and I’m extremely glad that Rajasthan chose to back his talent again. It looks like he’ll spend most of his time at six, which isn’t necessarily ideal but I believe he is good enough to adapt to the role.
Spin duo - Even though I’m not as keen on Ashwin in t20’s as some, managing to secure a spin duo of Chahal and Ashwin, for 11.5cr, in a ten team IPL is seriously good business and probably at least 25% under what I would’ve been expecting. Their spin bowling was a key area for them to address, as it has been a massive weakness over the last two seasons, since the drop off from Shreyas Gopal and Rajasthan have certainly done their best to fix it. Ashwin is one of the best boundary restricters and can also give you powerplay overs, while Chahal’s qualities are well known and is one of the best leg spinners in India. The blip he has seen in t20i’s has never really translated to the IPL.
Batting against spin - Through a combination of LHB/RHB and generally just good players of spin, I expect this to be a fairly big strength for RR. In addition to left handers that will target their match up, both of RR’s top order RHB’s (Buttler & Samson) are comfortable against the ball turning away from them. Not many teams look better-placed to deal with spin.
Powerplay bowling - Even though Ashwin can cover overs in this phase, they still look short. Krishna is notoriously bad in the powerplay and it isn’t exactly a strength for Coulter-Nile either. Much of the work will have to be done by Boult and Ashwin, with those two likely having to bowl at least four powerplay overs between them every game. It wouldn’t surprise me if the two of them bowled 70–75% of Rajasthan’s overall powerplay overs this tournament.
Batting depth - For me, this isn’t necessarily a concern, given the combination of stability and scoring they’ve got in their top six, with some players having both of those elements (Buttler & Samson). However, given the relative strength of their batting unit, not having reliable contributors at 7–8 is possibly the only slight criticism you could have of it. Otherwise it’s an elite batting line up.
Team balance - The absence of a ‘I can do both’ type of number 7 does leave the team balance looking slightly skewed either way, depending on who they choose to go there. It’s worth noting that there are hardly any genuine all-rounders to play that number 7 position, though I really do think someone like Pat Cummins would’ve been perfect in this set up.
Jos Buttler - World class, modern-day anchor, etc, there are so many terms you could use to praise Buttler. He is just a really, really good t20 player and I’m excited we might finally get to see a full season of him opening in the IPL again. He hasn’t played a ton of t20 cricket of late, but proved his classed at the t20 WC, scoring 270 runs in six innings, at a strike rate of 150 in what were difficult batting conditions. He doesn’t really have a weakness, perhaps SLA is the only bowler type that causes him issues with any sort of regularity. Expecting a big tournament from Jos.
Yashasvi Jaiswal - When he first made his IPL debut in 2020, he was an 18 year old kid, with an impressive List-A record and not much else, he looked out of his depth. It was anything but that last season, he looked like a transformed player and by all accounts, he worked hard to achieve that. He performed his role very well last season, striking at almost 150 and got them off to good starts, particularly in the UAE leg, where his powerplay strike rate of 155. Expect his role to be similar this season.
Devdutt Padikkal - For reasons that I’ve already explained, I like this signing and the position he’s likely to bat. I believe Padikkal has been underrated of late, if the mega auction took place between the India & UAE leg last season, he would’ve been a guaranteed retention for RCB and nobody would’ve had an issue with it. A couple of slow knocks in the UAE, in difficult conditions, might have deterred them and Rajasthan have pounced. After all, how many players, at the age of 21 have had back to back 400+ run IPL seasons, with the possibility of making it three in a row before his 22nd birthday. In addition to this, he’s also had one of the best SMA seasons in recent years:
Even if his home ground for Karnataka was an absolute road, his 580 run season at an average of 64 and strike rate of 175 in the 19/20 was a legendary season. If anything, it proves he has the boundary-scoring ability that some people believe he lacks and to do so at the age of 19 - even more incredible.
Sanju Samson - Like Buttler, doesn’t really have any overwhelming weakness. Rajasthan are really blessed to have both of them in the team. It’s not a make or break season for Sanju by any means, but another impressive tournament here would make it difficult for selectors to ignore him ahead of the T20 WC in Australia, a tournament that would give him a chance to lock down his place in the India white ball side. This is something I believe he deserves. Batting at four for RR will present a different challenge and he might need to start quicker than he has in previous seasons at times (first 10 balls SR = 118 in the last three seasons).
Shimron Hetmyer - He has done really well in the IPL as a ‘finisher’. Over the last two seasons he averaged almost 30 and struck at almost 160, including just-shy of 200 in the death overs. His numbers against 130+ pace are also very good (AV 33.5, SR 165). His game against spin is better than the numbers suggest, having played a lot of his games in the Caribbean, which weighs them down a bit. Looks like an ideal ‘hybrid’ sort of player to have at. 5.
Riyan Parag - Bundles of ability but hasn’t been able to translate that regularly to the IPL yet, despite a few good knocks. Although I don’t think we should be too harsh given the positions he has generally batted. How many 20 year olds do you see batting in the IPL at 5 & 6? Looks like the sixth bowler this season for RR and might have to bowl quite a few overs, I think his bowling is generally better than people give him credit for and hopefully he shows that season, right now, he just gets discredited immediately because of that round-arm ball he often bowls.
Nathan Coulter-Nile - The overall signing of NCN is a bit meh but he does look to give them the best balance. He can’t reach the speeds he once did and I’m not sure his batting is good enough to come in from ball one and tee off at the death.
Ravi Ashwin - Bowls roughly a quarter of his deliveries, though that could be higher this season and is generally better against left handers, both in terms of wicket taking and economy rate, which isn’t really surprising. A boundary percentage conceded stat of 11.72 is pretty good for a spinner, though not elite. RR may need something from his batting at some point, I’m not convinced if he has that in his locker.
Trent Boult - Since joining Mumbai, from Delhi, his IPL performances have gone up a gear. He has been one of the better IPL pace bowlers in the last two seasons:
In the same time frame he also has more powerplay wickets than anyone else (four higher than the next best). If he can perform to a similar for RR, he’ll be worth every penny of the 8cr they paid for him.
Prasidh Krishna - From one powerplay extreme to the other - Prasidh Krishna has one of the worst IPL powerplay records of all time. Since his IPL debut in 2018, he has taken four powerplay wickets in the 52 overs he has bowled in that phase. Of players to bowl at least 200 powerplay deliveries in the HISTORY of the IPL, of which there are almost 90 players, Krishna’s strike rate of 78 is the worst and by a country mile… Barinder Sran is the next worst with 45.6, given how much worse he has been then everyone else there’s likely an element of bad luck with his powerplay stats but it clearly isn’t the optimal phase to bowl him in. What Krishna can do well is bowl fast and control the middle overs, something he has done brilliantly in his limited 50 over career for India thus far. Expect a 1–2–1 or 1–1–2 role for Krishna this season.
Yuzi Chahal - His stats have held up admirably, considering how many seasons he has played for RCB, at a relatively high-scoring home ground (Chinaswammy). Generally has an equal threat against left & right handers. On occasion, he can give it a bit too much flight and becomes floaty. An average speed of 87kmph is perhaps average or slightly below average for an IPL leg spinner.
Rassie van der Dussen - Looks like the back up to Hetmyer, though I’m not sure he has the ability to start his innings as quickly as Hetmyer can. Rassie has a first 10 balls SR of under 105 in t20i’s, his gears against pace later in the innings are impressive. Tends to anchor against spin.
Daryl Mitchell - Did better than I expected in the opening slot for NZ at the t20 WC (209 runs, SR 140)and on that basis, perhaps he’ll be considered the back up for Jos Buttler. Head of cricket at Rajasthan - Zubin Bharucha also seems to be a big fan, based on what I’ve seen in the auction videos that Rajasthan posted.
Jimmy Neesham - He has his moments with the bat and has maybe improved slightly with the ball but overall this signing is a bit meh for me. Rajasthan mentioned that their social media team would be pleased with the signing, I hope that wasn’t a genuine consideration when signing Neesham.
Obed McCoy - Shin splits have halted his progress over the last few months but prior to that he was having an awesome rise. At 0.75 cr it looks like a worthwhile deal, provides cover for Boult and a different style of bowler to what they have in the rest of the team if RR decide to go with a bowling-heavy line up at some point.
Navdeep Saini - One of the fastest domestic bowlers, with an average speed of just over 140, also clears 140 with 65% of the deliveries he bowls. Could play an enforcer-type role at some point.
Player stats sheets:
Overall, I’m fairly confident in saying Rajasthan look like an improved team this season, despite the absence of Jorfa Archer both from their team this season and perhaps for the foreseeable future, after he was picked up by Mumbai.
The quality and versatility of their batting line up is undeniable and they also have a great spin duo, relative to the ones that other teams. These two things should allow them to be competitive, it’ll likely be the performances of their pace bowlers that determines exactly how successful they’ll be. I think Rajasthan will make the play offs but not sure they’ll win the tournament, due to the lack of multi-phase ability amongst their pace bowlers.
Thanks for reading!