Where they finished in 2020
Last, with six wins in 14 games and a net run rate of -0.569.
1 Ben Stokes, 2 Yashasvi Jaiswal/Manan Vohra, 3 Sanju Samson (capt.), 4 Jos Buttler (wk), 5 Riyan Parag, 6 Shivam Dube, 7 Chris Morris, 8 Rahul Tewatia, 9 Jofra Archer, 10 Shreyas Gopal, 11 Kartik Tyagi
The Royals have a number of explosive T20 batters in their line-up. Yet, they have struggled to click in the last couple of seasons, where inconsistent performances have led to constant chopping and changing at the top of the order. They never quite settled on an opening pair until the very end last season, trying five different combinations at the top. They also struggled in the powerplay, where they averaged just 22.41, the lowest among all teams.
It will be up to new captain Sanju Samson to not just come up with concrete measures for these shortcomings, but also to be consistent with his own performances. He started off with blistering knocks in the first two games last season, but eventually struggled to make runs as the Royals' campaign derailed. Their struggles in 2020 can also be partly put down to Jos Buttler's middling outings. This time, however, they will hope he carries his good form, which was on display in the recent T20I series against India. While they have the option to keep the top six fluid, they would be keen to pin down positions and roles from the outset this time, unlike last season.
Among the many experiments, one that paid dividends was pushing Ben Stokes to the top of the order towards the back-end of the tournament, where he made a century and two 40-plus scores. It remains to be seen if they would stick to playing him at that position, given their other strong - albeit a bit inexperienced - options in the middle order. Apart from having the option of pushing Buttler down the order, they have Rahul Tewatia, Shivam Dube (bought at the 2021 auction) and Riyan Parag. Tewatia was a revelation last season, while the young Parag showed flashes of brilliance. The addition of Chris Morris only adds more firepower to the already strong line-up. Letting go of their former captain Steven Smith, who had a poor run last season, has not only opened up a top-order spot but has also given them a chance to rotate and utilise their overseas options more effectively.
Jofra Archer, who single-handedly shouldered the burden of leading the attack last year, is expected to miss the first four games this season due to an injury. This is a bit of a worry for the Royals, as Archer was not just their best bowler last season but also a handy lower-order batter who impressed with his six-hitting. However, they would be happy with the fact that they have Morris to take over the role. Morris' capabilities as a death bowler are well known, and he also has an able partner in Bangladesh's Mustafizur Rahman at least until Archer's return.
While Tewatia was fairly effective with the ball, the rest of the Indian bowlers were not up to mark last season. The likes of Jaydev Unadkat, Varun Aaron and Ankit Rajpoot were a tad too expensive. Kartik Tyagi, however, was impressive, picking up six wickets in seven games, with his scalps including the likes of Virat Kohli, Shane Watson and Quinton de Kock. He comes into this IPL season with the experience of having travelled as a net bowler with the Indian side, so expect him to be a regular feature this season. These names apart, they have their auction purchases of Dube, Chetan Sakariya, Akash Singh and KC Cariappa as other options.
Young player to watch out for
Saurashtra's left-arm pacer Chetan Sakariya's story has been nothing short of a fairytale. Hailing from the small town of Vartej in Gujarat, Sakariya's family never considered cricket to be a viable career due to financial issues, but his passion and determination pushed him to pursue his dreams. In his own words, he "impressed" Glenn McGrath, under whom he trained at the MRF pace foundation, with his "nippy pace and natural swing". At 21, he became a mainstay in the Saurashtra side and also played a role in their Ranji Trophy title win last year. In the 2021 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, he was the team's highest wicket-taker, with 12 wickets in five games. He even had a stint as a net bowler with the Royal Challengers Bangalore during the 2020 IPL in the UAE, but it was the Royals who snapped him up for INR 1.2 crore (approx. US$164,000) at the recent auction.
Kumar Sangakkara (team director), Trevor Penney (lead assistant coach), Zubin Bharucha (strategy, development and performance director), Sairaj Bahutule (spin-bowling coach), Rob Cassell (fast-bowling coach) and Dishank Yagnik (fielding coach)