Dubai: When Rajasthan Royals built their squad for IPL 2020 in the auction last December, the plan was certainly to build it around the ‘Big Four’ of captain Steve Smith and the England trio of Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer. Now with a question mark over the participation of match-winning England allrounder Stokes, who pulled out of the current white ball series against Australia to be with his ailing father in New Zealand, the Jaipur-based franchise may have to find a way of dealing without him in the tournament.
While no official word is forthcoming from the franchise yet, Stokes admitted of being distressed in a recent interview after his father was diagnosed with brain cancer. “I didn’t sleep for a week and my head wasn’t really in it,” Stokes said after leaving the squad midway the Pakistan series. “Leaving was the right choice from a mental point of view,” he added.
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Much will rest on the able shoulders of prolific Smith, who is no stranger to handling the twin responsibilities of being the main batsman of the team and the leader. Last year, when he replaced Ajinkya Rahane with their race for the play-offs already losing steam, Royals managed to win three of their last five matches though they eventually had to finish in the seventh position.
In what would be one of the most challenging editions of IPL in its history - both on physical and psychological front for the cricketers - the relatively inexperienced side will have to rally around the overseas professionals and experienced Indian cricketers like Robin Uthappa, Jaydev Unadkat, Varun Aaron and the young IPL veteran Sanju Samson to make a match of it.
The top order in the batting line-up, comprising of Buttler, Samson, Smith and Uthappa, looks quite solid on paper while South African David Miller can pack a punch if Stokes is eventually not available to serve the team. It will be interesting to see Yashasvi Jaiswal, the Under-19 India hero who captured the imagination of cricket fans in India with a rousing show in the last Youth World Cup at the beginning of the year, manages to get a break after all the hype around him.
The pace bowling attack looks more well rounded in the shape of Unadkat, Aaron and Oshane Thomas, though Archer will prove to be the ace in the pack with his deceptive speed and variation. Mayank Markande, a quality leg spinner who was released by Mumbai Indians last year and the experienced Shreyas Gopal are their primary spin options - which means the progressively slow wickets of the UAE may see more of captain Smith rolling his arm over.
In the long drawn race of IPL, a smooth start sometimes hands over the initiative to the lesser fancied of teams - and Royals will be certainly hoping for one.
Main man: Steve Smith
Captain: Steve Smith
Indian Premier League wins: 1 (2008)
CLT20 wins: 0
Owners: Manoj Badale, Lachlan Murdoch
Coaches: Shane Warne (Team mentor), Andrew McDonald (Head Coach), Paddy Upton (Head Coach), Amol Muzumdar (batting coach), Sairaj Bahutule (bowling coach)
Akash Singh, Anirudha Joshi, Ankit Rajpoot, Anuj Rawat, Andrew Tye, Ben Stokes, David Miller, Kartik Tyagi, Jaydev Unadkat, Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler, Mahipal Lomror, Manan Vohra, Mayank Markande, Oshane Thomas, Rahul Tewatia, Riyan Parag, Robin Uthappa, Sanju Samson, Shashank Singh, Shreyas Gopal, Steven Smith, Tom Curran, Varun Aaron, Yashasvi Jaiswal