Rajasthan Royals (RR) raised quite a few eyebrows when they outclassed heavyweights Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in the final of the inaugural edition of Indian Premier League (IPL) 2018.
Despite not splashing out unlike other franchises, the Rajasthan-based franchise, led by former Australia leg-spinner Shane Warne, effectively used their resources and emerged as the deserved winners.
The Royals' approach to the cash-rich league in the first season became a template for the side in the years to come.
Royals buck tradition
Judicious approach and focus on grooming lesser-known stars not only brought them decent success (two semi-final appearance in seven seasons between 2009 and 2015) but also earned them a legion of fans, especially under Rahul Dravid's tenure.
However, the inaugural champions hinted they would be going all out on their return from a two-year suspension for bringing home the IPL trophy when they spent big money at the IPL auction in January to land overseas as well as local stars.
They were left with only Rs 1.65 crore from the Rs 80-crore purse as they splashed out on the likes of Ben Stokes (Rs 12.5 crore), Jaydev Unadkat (Rs 11.5 crore), Sanju Samson (Rs 8 crore) and Jofra Archer (Rs 7.2 crore) among others.
Royals star-studded despite missing Smith
Steve Smith was retained for Rs 12.5 crore but the former Australia captain will not be available for the 11th season of IPL following the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) ban over the infamous ball-tampering scandal that rocked Australian cricket.
Despite the absence of Smith, the Royals seem to be a formidable unit. With Ajinkya Rahane as the leader of the revamped unit, the former champions have enough firepower to fight for the title.
With the likes of D'Arcy Short, skipper Rahane, Rahul Tripathi and Ben Stokes, the top-order is capable of winning matches on its own. Sanju Samson and Jos Buttler give them not just solidity in the middle-order but also two wicket-keeping options.
Heinrich Klaasen -- Smith's replacement-- is an effective backup option for the middle-order slot. The South Africa wicket-keeper batsman proved his big-hitting ability in the recently-concluded ODI and T20I series against India.
All eyes will be on Jofra Archer, who is among the most exciting all-rounders in world cricket. The Sussex star is heading into IPL 2018 on the back of a successful Big Bash League campaign.
While the likes of Stokes, Archer and Stuart Binny are solid all-round options, the Royals will be relying on the costliest pacer in the league, Unadkat, to do the trick for them with the new ball. Dhawal Kulkarni and BBL star Ben Laughlin are handy pace-bowling options as well.
Young spinners under watchful eyes of Warne
However, the Royals' only are for concerns seems to be the lack of big names in the spin department. Nonetheless, the likes of Karnataka spinners Krishnappa Gowtham and Shreyas Gopal have a good opportunity to step up, especially under the watchful eyes of Shane Warne.
Players to watch out for
If Short's BBL exploits are anything to go by, Rajasthan will be off to flyers in the upcoming season. The 27-year-old left-hander struck at 148.57, amassing 572 runs in 11 matches, including a century.
Short has the proven ability to go hammer and tongs in the powerplay and he does that with clean-hitting. Also, the Western Australia all-rounder can give his captain a couple of overs with the ball with his left-arm chinaman.
Unadkat will be under pressure to live up to his price tag, but the left-arm pacer has the potential to challenge for the Purple Cap in the upcoming season. He was second on the wicket-takers list behind Bhuvneshwar Kumar, last season with 24 wickets at an average of 13.42.
The left-arm pacer is being considered as one of the mainstays of Indian T20I unit and considerable international exposure should help him perform under pressure in the cash-rich league.
Rajasthan Royals IPL 2018 - Predicted playing XI
Ajinkya Rahane (C), D'Arcy Short, Rahul Tripathi, Sanju Samson (wk), Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Krishnappa Gowtham, Jofra Archer, Shreyas Gopal, Dhawal Kulkarni, Jaydev Unadkat.
Ajinkya Rahane (C), Ben Stokes, Rahul Tripathi, D Arcy Short, Stuart Binny, Sanju Samson, Jos Buttler, Krishnappa Gowtham, Jofra Archer, Dhawal Kulkarni, Jaydev Unadkat, Ankit Sharma, Anureet Singh, Zahir Khan, Shreyas Gopal, Prashant Chopra, Sudhesan Midhun, Ben Laughlin, Mahipal Lomror, Aryaman Birla, Jatin Saxena, Dushmantha Chameera, Heinrich Klaasen.