If you decide to settle for the 'underdogs'/'dark horses' title for long, the trophy cabinet is likely to remain emptier than Miss Havisham's heart. Rajasthan Royals have learnt that lesson the hard way. So, is there room for Great(er) Expectations now?
After their surprise title win in the inaugural season, the recent kit change and the suspension have been the headline-grabbing outcomes for the Jaipur-based team. Yes, they made it to the play-offs thrice, but then that was that.
Desperate for results, the management has roped in T20 specialists, both domestic and offshore, for the upcoming campaign. With ample firepower in both departments, the Andrew McDonald-coached side is hoping to make amends after their horror run in 2019 where they finished just one slot above the bottom.
The seasoned Robin Uthappa, Shreyas Gopal and Varun Aaron along with U-19 World Cup discoveries Yashaswi Jaiswal, Riyan Parag and Kartik Tyagi are expected to give the team a perfect blend of experience and zest. A long list of matchwinners including Ben Stokes and Steve Smith gives the side a fresh hope of rising from the ashes.
Steve Smith, Ankit Rajpoot, Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler, Mahiapl Lomror, Manan Vohra, Mayank Markande, Rahul Tewatia, Riyan Parag, Sanju Samson, Shashank Singh, Shreyas Gopal, Varun Aaron, Robin Uthappa, Jaydev Unadkat, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Anuj Rawat, Akash Singh, Kartik Tyagi, David Miller, Oshane Thomas, Anirudha Joshi, Andrew Tye, Tom Curran
Andrew McDonald. (Head Coach)
Shane Warne (Mentor)
Amol Muzumdar (Batting Coach)
Sairaj Bahutule (Spin Bowling Coach)
Rob Cassell (Fast Bowling Coach)
Dishant Yagnik (Fielding Coach)
John Gloster (Physio)
Ben Stokes. The mere mention of the man's name gives chills to cricketers across the globe. After two very ordinary IPL seasons, the world's best allrounder across formats would be dying to unleash his best.
Then, there is Steve Smith. The Royals got the classiest man of modern times to lead the side. Smith is the ideal number three (or four) as he is can take the fight to the opposition under all circumstances. With an array of shots in his kitty, the Australian steals quick runs without hesitation throughout the day. If you go by the adage catches win matches also, the sharp and elastic Smith is the first man you want out there!
In Jos Buttler, the Royals have one of the best T20 openers. The English gloveman amassed 311 runs from just eight matches in the previous season before leaving to join his national team for the World Cup. Buttler would be in charge of giving the team an electrifying start and if he manages to stay on for a good six overs or so, trouble is assured for the opposition.
Sanju Samson is as much an athlete as Smith and another stroke-maker in the Buttler mould. He clears the stands effortlessly on his day and is certain to be the permanent presence in the middle-order. Even if the top three fall, the fearless youngster could amass runs alongside Uthappa, Miller or Vohra.
England's World Cup hero Jofra Archer will spearhead the bowling attack this season for the Royals after he was retained by the team at the auctions. Having picked up 11 wickets from as many games, Archer's ability to clock the 150 kph mark consistently would motivate his colleagues to bowl their heart out. Archer's ability to hit the ball cleanly could also come in handy for the team in pink.
Ben Stokes is in New Zealand with his ailing father and that means his arrival is undecided. Royals face a challenge in filling the Englishman's shoes and fielding a balanced lineup from the available squad. This could scupper their hopes of a dream start.
Once the missing alphas (Smith, Archer and Butler) are also back after serving a 36-hour quarantine, RR's foreign lineup is likely to remain unchanged for the rest of the season. This leaves the Indian contingent with the onus of backing Archer in the bowling department. There is no lack of experience with Varun Aaron and Jaydev Unadkat around, but both notoriously leak runs, which could make death bowling a problem. Shreyas Gopal and Rahul Tewatia, both leggies, are the team's primary spinners. How the team counters the lack of variation on UAE's spin-friendly tracks will be interesting.
The lack of a proper finisher could hurt the former champs. David Miller has been roped in but the South African isn't exactly the player who could unleash a whirlwind in the end overs to amass those valuable runs or steer the team home during a high-tense chase. Their X-factor Riyan Parag would have to punch above his weight if Samson or Miller misfire towards the end of the innings.
With nothing to lose and plenty to prove, Rajasthan Royals could be the most fearless side of the season. The team has got enough talent and experience in its ranks to upset anybody. With the right combinations and consistency, they could make it to the playoffs.
Yashasvi Jaiswal, Jos Buttler (WK), Steve Smith (C), Sanju Samson (WK), Ben Stokes, Robin Uthappa, Riyan Parag, Shreyas Gopal, Jofra Archer, Kartik Tyagi, Jaydev Unadkat