IPL 2018: Why Steve Smith missing out will do more good than harm to Rajasthan Royals
The ongoing Test series between South Africa and Australia has provided enough scoops for the entire world to be intrigued, be it on or off the field. It all began with a tussle between David Warner and Quinton de Kock after the first Test in Durban transpired. What ensued was an ugly spat of words between the two players.
Two Test matches later, we had the Sandpaper Gate controversy. Cameron Bancroft was seen.tampering the ball with sandpaper and got caught on camera as he eerily tried to hide his instrument of misconduct.
After press conferences and much opining over the fate of the ones involved, Cricket Australia put the curtains on the matter from their end by sanctioning a one-year ban to captain and vice-captain Steve Smith and David Warner, both of whom have stood down from their leadership roles. Bancroft's punishment though was set at 9 months of banishment.
What comes as a double blow for both Smith and Warner is the fact that the duo will have to miss out on the IPL as well. While this is undoubtedly a huge blow for Sunrisers Hyderabad, it may well and truly end up being a blessing in disguise for the Rajasthan Royals.
More balanced playing XI
Smith's absence will obviously lead to a change in the playing XI permutations and combinations and this is where the 2008 IPL champions will benefit foremostly.
With Smith up for selection, he would have most definitely played by the Royals. He would most definitely be joined by Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer from the overseas pool of players given the money spent on them and the cruciality of their roles in the squad.
This would leave just one foreign slot remaining in the Rajasthan playing XI with two brilliant options to choose from. It would cause the Royals' management enough headaches while deciding on who to field between swashbuckling opener D'Arcy Short and pinch hitter Jos Buttler.
Both of these players are arguably better than Smith when it comes to T20 cricket. The former Australian captain is undoubtedly a force to reckon with in Test cricket but has failed to respond to the pace of T20 cricket often. Smith hasn't played a T20I since Australia's sub-par outing in ICC World T20 2016 in India and has a strike rate of 122.44 in the format.
It's a different story for D'Arcy Short, though, who was the leading scorer in the recently concluded Big Bash League and scored a healthy 196 runs from five games in the T20 tri-series against New Zealand and England. His career strike rate is nearly 150 and he averages 49 from the bat.
Jos Buttler on the other hand, not only betters Smith's strike rate but has also recorded a better average of 25.45 in T20Is as compared to the Australian's average of 21.55 despite having played more games than the latter.
It paves the way for both these players to get selected for the starting line-up and adds both, a quickfire opener as well as a lethal finisher to the Rajasthan Royals' artillery.
Option to bring in a replacement
A quick glance at Rajasthan's team sheet will disclose the lack of depth in their bowling attack. While Ben Stones, Jofra Archer and Jaydev Unadkat are all crucial players, the left-arm Indian seamer has been leaking a lot of runs of late as seen in the Nidahas Trophy 2018.
Stokes too has only recently returned to action following his pub brawl back in September 2017, following which the lanky all-rounder was suspended by the ECB for several months.
RR does have a shortage in terms of quality Indian bowlers. Dhawal Kulkarni is the only other name that comes to mind apart from Unadkat. The likes of Mahipal Lomror and K Gowtham are still IPL novices.
Smith's absence allows the Royals to stack their bowling unit with another decent bowler, preferably an Indian from the list of unsold players. Rajasthan can easily consider bringing in the likes of Ishant Sharma and Varun Aaron among others.
No duality of opinion and 'Indian' factor
When it comes to the IPL, Indians have evidently been more successful as captains, winning seven of the IPL titles. Australian captains, however, have won it the remaining three times. Incidentally, Rajasthan are one of those teams who won the title with an Australian at the helm.
This year, Ajinkya Rahane is to lead the team, with Steve Smith stepping down yesterday in the wake of the Sandpaper Gate. Rahane is a crucial player for the Rajasthan Royals, given his experience in the IPL and his seniority as a Royals' player.
However, this would still be Rahane's first IPL assignment as captain and he could still be feeling the pressure of the same. In such cases, he could easily be swayed from his original game plan by the opinions of a rather aggressive Smith, who would obviously be voicing his thoughts on the field.
While it could have been of aid to Rahane, it would also bring a sense of duality in opinion and thereby actions on the field which could lead the Rajasthan Royals into disarray.
The failure of the Kolkata Knight Riders squad of 2008 comes to mind where they had the likes of Sourav Ganguly, Ricky Ponting, and Mohammed Hafeez - all captains of their national teams at one point of time - in the squad, and the collective confusion thereon.
While the absence of Steve Smith comes across as that of a big loss, it might actually come to the aid of the Rajasthan Royals as they get to choose a better set of foreigners to play in the games.
Smith's absence also allows the Royals to replace him with an unsold player in the auction, which serves as an opportunity to fortify Rajasthan's bowling unit.
Finally, Rahane remains the clear leader in the squad with no duality of opinion or leadership on the pitch.