From the inaugural IPL, I've always considered myself a Rajasthan Royals fan and the fact that they now have an established core of England players makes them even more worthwhile to follow. The close season has seen a fairly large movement of players both in and out with established names like former captain Anjinka Rahane and top-order batsman Rahul Tripathi leaving, however, the big-name overseas players have all been retained and Rajasthan's aim for this season will be to try and re-balance a starting 11 that has looked a little top-heavy in previous seasons.
Losing players to the various World Cup squads at the end of last season certainly didn't help Rajasthan's cause and they will have to make do without several of their English contingent in the early part of this tournament too due to the Test Matches that will take place in Sri Lanka. Once he is available, it seems likely that Jos Buttler will open the batting for the Royals, a position that he excelled in during the 2018 season. His role at the top of the order for the national team has been the subject of much debate and he'll undoubtedly be hoping to show just why Eoin Morgan wants to see him face as many balls as possible by hitting some match-winning scores. The question then remains who will Rajasthan partner him with?
The options include the experienced Robin Uthappa who was brought in from KKR. Uthappa would be the more conservative option for Rajasthan and I wonder if his selection may inadvertently add more pressure on Buttler to do the bulk of the scoring during the powerplay. Instead, the Royals might consider promoting Sanju Samson up the order to open. In my mind, the right-hander is one of the most gifted stroke-players in world cricket and could really benefit this season from having more opportunities to dominate games from the off. Promoting him to open would also allow Rajasthan to put Steve Smith up to number 3 which seems to be his preferred position in short-form cricket. Unlike David Warner, Smith struggled in last seasons IPL off the back of his year-long ban but thereafter has gone on to re-establish himself at the very top of the game. Having him churning out runs in the anchor position from number 3 will be a real benefit for the Royals this year.
The other option would be to give exciting 18-year-old talent Yashasvi Jaiswal a go somewhere in the top 3. At the age of just 17, Jaiswal became the youngest player in the history of cricket to score a list-A double hundred and his form for Mumbai and the Indian U-19 team have been impressive over the last 12months. The step up to the global level will be a big one but I'd be surprised if he didn't get some game time this season.
Jaiswal isn't the only exciting young Indian player in the Royals squad this year as they look to rebuild a core of local players to take them into the new decade. Teenager Riyan Parag tops the list of home-grown all-rounders that the Royals have available to them. His initial 7 games in the IPL have seen him score 160 runs and take 2 wickets. Despite his tender age he topped the batting averages for Assam in the recently completed Ranji trophy and he will be hoping to get more experience this time around. He could be joined in the starting 11 by 2 uncapped all-rounders that Rajashtan brought in during the off-season in the shape of Rahul Tewatia and Ankit Rajpoot. Tewatia has come full circle having made his debut for Rajashtan back in 2014 before playing at KXIP and Dehli. Rajpoot meanwhile had a good time of it in this year's Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy taking 12 wickets in 6 games and then followed that up with a further 26 wickets in the Ranji Trophy. Despite being 26-years-old both players are somewhat journeyman cricketers at least in IPL terms and will be hoping to have finally found a home in this Royals side.
In all-round terms, the jewel in the crown remains Ben Stokes who will hope to improve on what have been a disappointing last couple of seasons in the IPL. It'll be interesting to see where Rajasthan bat him in the order as they've tended to shift him up and down their line-up searching for success. While he hits a very long ball I wouldn't consider him in the same vein as an Andre Russell or Hardik Pandya as he generally takes a little longer to get going and hits more orthodox cricket shots albeit with great power. His match-winning ability has returned over the last 9 months and Rajasthan will be hoping that he continues that in their colours this year. With Stokes and the 3 players mentioned above, Rajasthan look certain to have options available to them with ball.
The news that Jofra Archer is unlikely to be available for the entire tournament will be a disappointment for Rajasthan but hardly a surprise. They moved to secure the signings of Tom Curran and Andrew Tye in the auction as back-up while retaining Varun Aaron and Oshane Thomas in their squad from last year. Tye was the leading wicket-taker in the 2018 tournament but has struggled with injuries over the last 6 months while Curran has impressed for England and franchise cricket around the world these last couple of years. Rajashtan seemed reluctant at times last year to play either Aaron or Thomas but for the sake of variety having a bowler with genuine pace in their line-up is a must. That variety will be further enhanced by left-armer Jaydev Unadkat.
For front-line spinners, Rajasthan have the option of playing Shreyas Gopal who was their leading wicket-taker in last year's tournament and one of the best bowlers in the IPL full-stop or Mayank Markande who was transferred in from Mumbai Indians. Markande found opportunities at Mumbai hard to come by last season and he might be limited again at Rajashtan given the form that Gopal showed in 2019 plus his wicket-taking in the interim. You might say the one weakness that Rajasthan do have is the lack of a credible finger spinner and/or slow left-armer in their squad but they are stacked full of wrist spinners.
Predictions and Betting
The loss of Archer is a blow and in general the Royals will be looking to their big-name international stars to win them games. That Buttler and Stokes will miss the opening part of the tournament means that the back-up players are going to have to play at their full potential in order to get Rajasthan off to a good start.
Batting wise, Smith's return to form and the captaincy mean that it's difficult not to believe that he will be accumulating consistent runs this season. Equally, Sanju Samson will be given the chance to showcase his talents from the top of the order and will represent more attractive odds than Smith.
Picking a leading wicket-taker out of the overseas fast bowlers might prove challenging and all of them are likely to play their part during the season. As such going for Shreyas Gopal to pick up wickets in the middle overs as he did last season is the sensible bet.