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IPL 2024: Robust RR promise an exciting season

The 2008 IPL champions usually look to manage limited resources; this time though they boast of top talent — young as well as experienced

In IPL’s 16 completed seasons, Rajasthan Royals have never been a popular pick on the topic of title contenders. It is shaped by the franchise’s character, which is centred on optimising limited resources, looking to punch above its weight. The title in the inaugural 2008 edition was won with that philosophy, helped by talismanic captain Shane Warne totally buying into it and showing off his leadership skills in the process.

Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shimron Hetmyer and Kumar Sangakkara during a practice session

That RR have subsequently made the final only once — in 2022 — is an apt reflection of their usually pragmatic outlook.

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But with a likely top six of Yashasvi Jaiswal, Jos Buttler, Sanju Samson, Shimron Hetmyer, Dhruv Jurel and Riyan Parag and a bowling line-up comprising Trent Boult, R Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal, RR have every reason to go into this edition as a certainty for at least a playoff berth. That campaign starts against Lucknow Supergiants in Jaipur on Sunday.

Is there, for example, a more explosive opening combination in this IPL than Jaiswal and Buttler? Is there a more experienced spin pairing than Ashwin and Chahal? Is there a more lethal wicket-taker in the powerplay than Boult? Aren’t Samson, Hetmyer and Jurel all capable of winning matches off their bat on any given day?

It’s a given that this star cast will have to live up to its ability for potential to translate into performance, but RR have all bases covered at the outset. If Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians are IPL’s most successful teams with five titles each, it’s because they have firepower from top to bottom and do not rely on just one or two players. That can be said this season of RR too. Particularly exciting is the growth of Jaiswal, Jurel and Parag over the past few months.

Jaiswal, 22, was one of the young stars of IPL 2023 with 625 runs in 14 matches at a strike rate of 163.61. And instead of stayingstatic, the left-hand batter has built on his confidence by debuting for India and excelling in Tests and T20s alike. So impressive has he been that amid the clamour for spots in the Indian team for the T20 World Cup, it can be said with some certainty that Jaiswal will open the batting at the marquee event.

Among his many impressive traits, his ability to tee off instantly stands out. Even Buttler, usually the aggressor in a partnership, had to be content taking a subdued role last season, for Jaiswal was motoring along at a strike rate of 175.24 in the opening six overs.

While it’s about carrying on in a similar vein for Jaiswal, Jurel and Parag may be seen in a new light this season. In Jurel’s case, he was just one of a spate of promising Indian wicketkeeper-batters until about a month ago. Now, he is the incumbent gloveman in Tests and is viewed as a serious challenger in the race for the keeping slot for the T20 World Cup too.

The dramatic rise is because of a solid display in the Test series against England, where Jurel combined grit, flair and temperament in the final three games. T20 is a different format of course, but let’s not forget that Jurel caught the attention with his cameos for RR last season. Used mostly as an Impact Player, he was able to come in at the back end and launch towering hits as a strike rate of 172.72 testifies. Even if Jurel doesn’t take the keeping gloves — Samson and Buttler can also do that job — the 23-year-old is likely to be a far more consistent feature of the eleven.

Then there’s Parag in red-hot form. Yet to take the step up to the highest level like Jaiswal and Jurel have, the 22-year-old had

a prolific domestic season for Assam, topping the scoring charts in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament and returning 378 runs in four Ranji Trophy matches. Though he has underwhelmed in previous IPL seasons, it’s perhaps important to remember he’s still only 22.

The exuberance of youth is nicely balanced by the experience of Buttler, Samson and Hetmyer in the batting unit. In the bowling pack, Boult, Chahal and Ashwin bring know-how with 430 IPL games between them. Importantly, there’s strength in the Indian pace bowling stock too — Avesh Khan, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Sen and Sandeep Sharma are the options available even after Prasidh Krishna was ruled out with injury. And if Boult misses some games for whatever reason, South African left-arm pacer Nandre Burger can be a like-for-like replacement.

Despite all this, the fickleness of the T20 format and the nature of the IPL mean that there aren’t any guarantees. But over the course of 14 league games and beyond, RR will hope the calibre of their squad shines through.


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