The Rajasthan Royals (RR) had their worst-ever campaign in the Indian Premier League (IPL) last year. The 2008 IPL champions finished dead last on the points table for the first time in their history, and nothing seemed to click for them throughout the tournament.
Ben Stokes missed the first half of IPL 2020, and the form of Sanju Samson and Steve Smith fell off rapidly. The pace bowlers barring Jofra Archer leaked runs in almost every game, while the team's trusted spinner Shreyas Gopal had an off-season.
RR have taken significant steps towards righting their wrongs. Smith was released in what was a gutsy move, and Samson was appointed the skipper in what was an ever braver decision. There was also a mass exodus in the pace department, with Akash Singh, Ankit Rajpoot, Oshane Thomas, Tom Curran and Varun Aaron making their way out of the side.
Retained Players: Sanju Samson, Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler, Mahipal Lomror, Manan Vohra, Mayank Markande, Rahul Tewatia, Riyan Parag, Shreyas Gopal, Robin Uthappa, Jaydev Unadkat, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Anuj Rawat, Kartik Tyagi, David Miller, Andrew Tye
Released Players: Steve Smith, Akash Singh, Anirudha Joshi, Ankit Rajpoot, Oshane Thomas, Shashank Singh, Tom Curran, Varun Aaron
Trades (OUT): Robin Uthappa
Here are 3 areas of concern for RR ahead of the IPL 2021 auction.
#3 RR's spin attack is highly one-dimensional
RR's current roster doesn't have much variety when it comes to spinners. This was an issue for RR even ahead of IPL 2020, and they have made matters worse by releasing even the part-time off-spinning options they had.
Shreyas Gopal struggled in last year's tournament - he was taken for runs regularly, and didn't threaten very often. Rahul Tewatia was a surprising breath of fresh air, but he isn't much more than a restrictive option.
Mayank Markande, another leg-spinner in the side, didn't play a single game. Riyan Parag, who was part of the playing XI most of the time, wasn't trusted to bowl more than an odd over now and then.
RR must find left-arm spin and off-spin options in the auction. Veteran Harbhajan Singh might prove to be a smart acquisition, as he'd able to mentor the young players in the side and add a different dimension to the bowling attack.
#2 RR need to find support for Jofra Archer
Jofra Archer was by far RR's best bowler in IPL 2020. He was flanked by Ankit Rajpoot, Jaydev Unadkat and Tom Curran at various stages of the tournament, but none of these bowlers offered him much help. Only Kartik Tyagi impressed in flashes, but even he struggled to take wickets on a regular basis.
After releasing 5 underperforming/benchwarming pacers, RR need to find bowlers who can support their English spearhead. They can't expect Archer to provide breakthroughs with the new ball and give them two overs at the death in every game, and other fast bowlers need to step up and take responsibility.
There are many IPL-tested pacers in the IPL 2021 auction pool, and RR will do well to recruit a couple.
#1 RR need to adjust to a new captain in Samson
Each captain has different styles, and needs some time to get his players to gel together. We saw that last season with the Kings XI Punjab, who pulled all strings to give captain KL Rahul and coach Anil Kumble a unit they were already familiar with.
Samson, who is taking over from an overseas skipper in Steve Smith, will need to give the team management some clear plans for the auction. He needs to communicate his long-term vision for the team to the support staff, and in turn, they need to align themselves to their captain's goals in recruitment.
The players who are bought in the auction will also need to get used to playing under Samson, who isn't greatly experienced when it comes to leading a team. This will be RR's biggest area of concern heading into the IPL 2021 auction, but it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Only time will tell.