Yashasvi Jaiswal
Rajasthan Royals’ Yashasvi Jaiswal celebrates the team's victory against Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League in Jaipur on April 23, 2024. Jaiswal’s unbeaten century and Sandeep Sharma’s five-wicket haul helped Rajasthan win and stay atop the table with 14 points. Image Credit: ANI

Rajasthan Royals never had it so good. Seven wins in eight matches of the Indian Premier League have made them frontrunners and favourites. Will they become champions? No, it’s too early to discuss that. Let’s focus on their journey in the league phase.

Robin-round matches are notoriously unpredictable with home and away fixtures. Fancied teams like the Mumbai Indians and the Chennai Super Kings always start slowly before picking up pace to qualify and turning up the heat in the eliminators and final. The script was shredded by the Gujarat Titans in 2022, who started strongly to win the title on debut.

Rajasthan lost that final, poleaxed by Gujarat captain Hardik Pandya’s inspired bowling spell. The defeat will rankle the Sanju Samson-led team, for it was their best chance to add to the trophy won in 2008, IPL’s inaugural year, under Shane Warne’s leadership.

Rajasthan’s total domination of Mumbai

Pandya now captains the Mumbai Indians, who have been scalded by Rajasthan’s fiery form. Samson led Rajasthan to a nine-wicket victory in Jaipur on the strength on Sandeep Sharma’s five-wicket haul and Yashasvi Jaiswal’s unbeaten century. Earlier, Rajasthan won with ease at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, underlining their total dominance of the five-time winners.

What does that mean? It makes Rajasthan favourites to win IPL 17. Teams are wary of their powerful batting, where the misfiring Jaiswal rediscovered his range and rhythm on Monday. The 22-year-old, who came to the IPL after the prolific scoring against England in the Test series, had been short of runs in early matches. So the innings would calm his nerves.

Fellow opener Jos Buttler too had been struggling with his timing, but had worked through the patchy form to carve two centuries, the second of which fetched an unlikely last-ball win against the Kolkata Knight Riders. The form of the opening batters is a fillip for Rajasthan as they head to the business end of the league stage with all guns blazing.

Skipper Samson hadn’t scored a century this season. That’s very unlike him. He tends to blast a hurricane ton in the early matches before fading away, only to return to form towards the end of the league. We see a totally different Samson this year, a player who’s been selective in his aggression, preferring to steer his team past the winning post.

He now regularly comes in at No. 3, unlike in previous years when he used to float up and down the middle order. Riyan Parag, too, has a permanent slot this year. Ever since he started batting at No. 4, Parag has been scoring consistently, unlike in previous editions when his batting only lit up a match or two. Shimron Hetmyer and Rovman Powell have been doing the heavy hitting down the order, and the two West Indians have helped deliver wins from tough situations.

The bowling is varied and incisive. Trent Boult slices through the rival batting in the powerplay, while Sandeep Sharma can be a handful with his repertoire of swing, cutters, slower deliveries and yorkers.

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The combination of off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal is the best in IPL. Chahal, in particular, is always among the wickets, often leading the Purple Cap race.

That makes Rajasthan a well-rounded team with resources to handle every crisis. Their only stumble this season came against the Gujarat Titans when they lost the match on the last ball. 

Can Rajasthan win IPL 2024? They can. Keep your eyes peeled.