Shane Warne's side clinched the inaugural IPL crown with a thrilling 3-wicket win over the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in the final. But very few expected RR to go all the way, especially after a 9-wicket mauling at the hands of the Delhi Daredevils in their maiden IPL encounter.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Swapnil Asnodkar spoke about RR's chances in IPL 2021 and drew parallels to the franchise's unprecedented title victory in 2008.
Sanju Samson's side are in the bottom half of the points table, having suffered a spate of injuries and withdrawals this year. In the very first IPL season, RR overcame their defeat to the Daredevils, going on an impressive winning run and losing only two more matches en route to top spot at the end of the league stage.
Asnodkar recollected how no one had faith in the 2008 team's abilities.
"RR have a good team, it's not like they can't make up for their poor start. T20 is all about momentum. If you get 1-2 wins under your belt, the belief within the team rises. In 2008, when we played our first game and got hammered by the Delhi Daredevils, no one believed in us. They said Rajasthan Royals is a team with no experience, as Shane Warne and Graeme Smith were the only two big names in the team," Swapnil Asnodkar said.
The 37-year-old added that the lack of big names in the RR squad for IPL 2008 caused fans to overlook the team while naming contenders for the title. He insisted that Samson's men can turn their campaign around by notching up a couple of wins on the trot.
"Everyone else was trying to make a name for themselves. Shane Watson was new, Sohail Tanvir wasn't established as such, Yusuf [Pathan] was there, Mohammad Kaif was part of the team. People didn't have belief, but after a couple of wins, the atmosphere changed. If the current team can notch up a couple of wins, fortunes will favor them," Swapnil Asnodkar added.
From an individual perspective, Swapnil Asnodkar had a breakthrough IPL season in 2008. Thrust into the limelight from the obscurity of first-class cricket for Goa, he rose up to the occasion admirably, scoring 311 runs at an average of 34.55 and a strike rate of 133.47.
"In that year, I had a very good first-class season in which I scored around 640 runs. So the confidence was there, and when the IPL call came, it was a great moment in my life. I did well in the pre-season camp and I was just waiting for my opportunity. I had played the Duleep Trophy and the Deodhar Trophy in front of a crowd, so I was used to that," Swapnil Asnodkar recollected.
When asked about the step up from first-class cricket to the IPL, Swapnil Asnodkar admitted he was under pressure to perform, but shed light on how he got into the right frame of mind. He announced his arrival on the IPL stage with an attacking 34-ball 60 against the Kolkata Knight Riders, and followed it up with scores of 32, 39 and 50 in his next three matches.
"If I had not played, the jam-packed stadiums would've affected me. But yeah, the IPL was a different kind of tournament altogether. I'd be lying if I said there was no pressure. And once things get going, you enter your own zone, back yourself and don't worry about the results. It worked for me right from the first game itself," Swapnil Asnodkar revealed.
"If I had done well in those 5-6 innings, I would've played much longer than I did" - Swapnil Asnodkar
The following seasons of the IPL weren't as kind to Swapnil Asnodkar. He had made a name for himself as a promising, free-spirited stroke-player who was destined for international cricket, but the 2009 campaign in South Africa saw him score only 98 runs in 8 games.
"I hadn't played outside India. During the first practice session, I tore ligaments in my finger while fielding and I couldn't even hold the bat for many days. I couldn't utilize that time to prepare, and the entire tournament was affected by that. I didn't do well, and things may have been different had I gotten those days of preparation," disclosed Swapnil Asnodkar.
Curiously, of Asnodkar's last nine dismissals in the IPL, five were by way of run-out and one was an unfortunate hit-wicket. When asked if he feels the way his IPL career wound down was a touch unlucky, he replied in the affirmative but remarked there's no point crying over spilt milk.
"Yeah, to be honest yes. I won't blame my partner, and accidents do happen. In those moments, I made certain decisions that didn't go in my favor. Such things happen, they're part and parcel of the game. That time is gone now, and I can't think about it or regret it. I have to move on, life goes on. But yeah, if I had done well in those 5-6 innings, I would've played much longer than I did," Swapnil Asnodkar said.
But unfortunate end aside, Swapnil Asnodkar had a decorated IPL career, over the course of which he rubbed shoulders with some of the greatest cricketers to have graced the game. Graeme Smith, Shane Warne and Shane Watson were among the star performers during Asnodkar's time at RR, and he continues to reap the benefits of his stint with the franchise even today.
"It was one of the most important phases of my life - a golden period. Getting the opportunity to play with such legends, sharing the dressing room, understanding how they conduct themselves, how they go about the game - I learnt a lot of things from them. They were friendly, and I carried that experience into first-class cricket. Whatever I could learn from these big players, I shared with my colleagues in Goa," Swapnil Asnodkar stated.
"Even when we were part of RR, Jadeja was a brilliant fielder" - Swapnil Asnodkar
Another notable name who was part of RR's squad for IPL 2008 is India superstar Ravindra Jadeja, who's arguably the best all-rounder in world cricket at the moment. The 'Rockstar', as Warne called him, wasn't anywhere near the finished product he is today, but his immense potential was impossible to miss.
Swapnil Asnodkar gushed over Jadeja's abilities, and gave his two cents about the 32-year-old's spectacular growth as a cricketer.
"Even when we were part of RR, Jadeja was a brilliant fielder. Batting wise, he's not as great as he is now. But the way he overcame everything, hats off to him. I would say he's the best all-rounder in the game at the moment. His consistency has been amazing, and it's all about the confidence. Once you feel you're here to stay, you can express yourself in the best possible way. I hope he keeps doing well for Team India and for the Chennai Super Kings. Cricketers like him are a joy to watch, because you just can't keep them out of the game. Batting, bowling, fielding - they're everywhere!" Swapnil Asnodkar quipped.
Swapnil Asnodkar has looked up to many cricketers over the years, none more so than Sachin Tendulkar. He shared a heartwarming story about how he used to watch 'The Master Blaster' in action as a child, and added that Tendulkar was the one who inspired him to take up the game.
"Sachin Tendulkar has been the biggest idol for all the kids of my generation. I personally started loving this game because of him, I used to watch him bat. When I was a kid, my father used to ask me to come and watch him bat even when I had my exams. And then, once he got out, I would go and study. That's how the love of the game started. Now, obviously Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, the brand of cricket they play is amazing, out of this world. So for this generation, it's these two players," Swapnil Asnodkar elucidated.
After a stellar IPL and first-class career, Swapnil Asnodkar is set for the next chapter of his cricketing life. He recently completed the Fast Track Level 2 coaching course at the National Cricket Academy, and continues to give back to the sport.