IPL 2020 Preview: Ben Stokes a question mark as Rajasthan Royals dream of better fortunes

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With the 2020 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) set to get under way in the UAE, the eight franchises have been busy with their preparations for the marquee T20 event.

Nearly two months of non-stop cricketing action will entertain fans around the world as the best from India and some of the biggest overseas stars take centre stage in the UAE.

Here, we look at how Rajasthan Royals are shaping up for their campaign which gets under way on September 22.

SQUAD

David Miller, Manan Vohra, Riyan Parag, Robin Uthappa, Shashank Singh, Steven Smith (C), Yashasvi Jaiswal, Ben Stokes, Mahipal Lomror, Shreyas Gopal, Tom Curran, Anuj Rawat, Jos Buttler, Sanju Samson, Akash Singh, Andrew Tye, Aniruddha Joshi, Ankit Rajpoot, Jaydev Unadkat, Jofra Archer, Kartik Tyagi, Mayank Markande, Oshane Thomas, Rahul Tewatia, Varun Aaron.

CAPTAIN – STEVE SMITH

Image - @rajasthanroyals/Twitter.

Image – @rajasthanroyals/Twitter.

The world’s best Test batsmen took over the Rajasthan captaincy midway through the 2019 IPL campaign after missing the 2018 edition due to the ball-tampering scandal. The T20 format might not be the Australian’s strongest suit, but he is adept at playing anchor while holding one end down.

Smith’s elevation to captaincy last year reignited Royals’ atrocious campaign, with the franchise narrowly missing out on play-off qualification ultimately. While he might no longer be the captain of his country, Smith’s innovative approach to leadership could see Rajasthan punching above their weight against more fancied opponents.

There is no denying that the Aussie has a sharp cricketing mind and just like his batting, he can be highly unorthodox and inventive with his captaincy. The Royals will require some out of the box thinking if they are to make a big splash in the Emirates, and they have the perfect leader in Smith to pull it off successfully.

OVERVIEW

It has been more than a decade of drought for the Royals ever since their fairytale title triumph in the inaugural edition back in 2008. In the past, the franchise has taken an approach of going for unheralded players in the hopes of unearthing potential gems. Unfortunately, that gambit hasn’t paid off for the most part.

However, there has been a marked shift in that stance post the new media rights deal bagged by the IPL. Large sums have been spent on fetching some big overseas names, although the recruitment on the domestic front still seems to be lacking.

In the overseas department, Rajasthan seem to have most bases loaded with the likes of Smith, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer in tow. South Africa’s David Miller could be a canny acquisition for the middle-order, especially in light of the recent personal developments for Stokes.

A big question mark currently hovers above Stokes’ participation, and his potential absence from the tournament would be a huge blow for Royals’ aspirations. The England all-rounder might not have justified his price tag in the two previous seasons, but his purple patch for country over the past year or so would be a welcome boost for the side.

Image: Rajasthan Royals/Twitter.

Image: Rajasthan Royals/Twitter.

There are still some big gaping holes in their domestic roster and the addition of the experienced Robin Uthappa might not be enough to turn the tide. They do, however, have some exciting young talent in the form of Yashasvi Jaiswal, Riyan Parag and Kartik Tyagi. If these youngsters can make the step up and supplement the likes of Sanju Samson and Shreyas Gopal, then the Royals can afford to be optimistic.

Another vital factor that cannot be ignored is Andrew McDonald’s appointment as the head coach, with the former Australia all-rounder being highly-rated by his peers.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Domestic – Shreyas Gopal

Image - BCCI/SPORTZPICS.

Image – BCCI/SPORTZPICS.

That spin is king on the pitches in the UAE will be music to the ears of Shreyas Gopal. The leg-spinner was a treat to watch for Rajasthan in 2019 and bamboozled some of the world’s best batsmen in the process. Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers were just some of the big names to be gobbled up by Gopal and his wily variations.

Armed with a highly deceptive googly, Gopal should be effective to say the least on UAE tracks. He bagged 20 wickets in his last IPL and will back himself to go even further this time as the team’s frontline spinner.

It is a surprise that the 27-year-old has not been capped by India so far, though that could quickly change if he gets going in the upcoming tournament.

Overseas – Jos Buttler

Image - BCCI/SPORTZPICS.

Image – BCCI/SPORTZPICS.

He has recently been lauded as England’s best ever white-ball cricketer by team-mate Stuart Broad and for good reason. His promotion to opener was the catalyst to Rajasthan’s resurgence in the 2019 campaign and he has carried on that remarkable form in England colours too.

His recent displays in the T20I series against Australia augurs well for Rajasthan and he will arrive in the UAE as the man in form. What makes Buttler the complete T20 package is that he is comfortable against both pace and spin. He can be equally destructive as an opener in the powerplay or as a finisher in the death overs.

He was a one-man army at times for the Royals last season and the franchise can dream about glory if they can provide the Englishman with adequate support.

Youngster – Yashasvi Jaiswal

Yashasvi

He has only recently turned 18 but Jaiswal has displayed maturity beyond his age in his showings for India U19 and Mumbai. He was the best player by some distance in the 2020 ICC U19 World Cup and was unfortunate to not end up on the title-winning side.

He was already making waves in India’s domestic circuit before his U19 World Cup bow, with his 203 against Jharkhand making him the youngest batsman in history to register a List A double century.

The left-handed batsman has all the attacking shots in the book and Rajasthan’s lack of batting firepower in the domestic department means that he is bound to be thrown into the deep end.

He is touted as a future India batting superstar and it is not hard to see why. He could easily turn out to be young player of the tournament in this IPL.

Predicted XI: Yashasvi Jaiswal, Jos Buttler (WK), Steve Smith (C), Sanju Samson, David Miller/Ben Stokes, Robin Uthappa, Riyan Parag, Shreyas Gopal, Jaydev Unadkat, Jofra Archer, Ankit Rajpoot.

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