Rajasthan Royals punched above their weight last season in the Indian Premier League and sneaked through as the fourth-placed side in the playoffs. In their last game of the league season, the Royals beat Royal Challengers Bangalore and then saw Mumbai Indians lose their last game to Delhi, in order to book their place in the eliminator where they were eventually ousted by Kolkata Knight Riders.
The team from Jaipur will be bolstered by the return of Steve Smith and captain Ajinkya Rahane will once again look to lead his side to a healthy finish this campaign.
Here's taking a look at RR's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
- The Royals have some outstanding overseas players who can single-handedly win games for their team on their day. Jos Buttler lit up the last IPL when he was promoted to open the batting and his countryman Ben Stokes is another player who can turn games with both, bat and ball. The Royals also have Jofra Archer who is one of the most feared T20 all-rounders in the world.
- The team is strewn with all-rounders in plentitude which always ensures the captain has plenty of options with the ball and also has finishers who can provide the final flourish. Krishnappa Gowtham and Shreyas Gopal were revelations with the bat last season as they managed to dig the Royals out of seemingly unwinnable situations. With Archer and Stokes also in the mix, the Rajasthan Royals could have batting depth up to number 9.
- The quality of Indian batsmen is a cause of concern for the Royals. Rahane is a class act but has not been at his best for India or in the IPL of late. Rahul Tripathi is a good Indian option but given the makeup of the Royals, he will not be batting at his favoured position at the top of the order. Sanju Samson has always been talked highly of but flatters to deceive on most occasions.
- The spin bowling department looks a little short of international talent. Although Ish Sodhi is a part of the squad, it is difficult to see him getting a game ahead of the other international stars that the Royals have at their disposal. Gowtham and Gopal are decent bowlers but are not a match for some of the other teams in the tournament.
- The IPL will be Steve Smith's return to mainstream cricket following the Sandpapergate incident. The former Australian skipper will be keen to prove a point to his detractors and announce himself back in the cricketing circuit. This IPL will be the right-hand batsman's final tournament before the World Cup and is thus a chance to get back into form before the tournament.
- The number 4 spot for India is still up for grabs and although Ambati Rayudu remains a frontrunner, Ajinkya Rahane can stake a claim with a strong performance with the bat. Rayudu has been disappointing of late and given Rahane's experience, he could make a late surge to make it to the World Cup squad. Rahane is also a very good fielder and especially good in the slip cordon which gives him an added advantage over Rayudu.
- The English and Australian players in the World Cup squad will leave for a preparatory camp in the beginning of May which could have a massive impact on Rajasthan Royals' campaign. The Royals will subsequently lose Smith, Stokes, Buttler, Archer and Ashton Turner which will make their squad look extremely thin heading into the final phase of the league season and the playoffs following that.
- The Royals are extremely dependent on Jaydev Unadkat to deliver with the ball. The left-arm pacer had a fantastic 2017 season in the IPL but did not match his heroics in the following season. The huge salary may have impacted him but the 27-year-old will have to put all that behind as the Royals look very thin on the Indian pace bowling front without him.
Ajinkya Rahane (C), Krishnappa Gowtham, Sanju Samson (WK), Shreyas Gopal, Aryaman Birla, Sudhesan Midhun, Prashant Chopra, Stuart Binny, Rahul Tripathi, Dhawal Kulkarni, Mahipal Lomror, Jos, Buttler (WK), Ben Stokes, Steve Smith, Jofra Archer, Ish Sodhi, Jaydev Unadkat, Varun Aaron, Oshane Thomas, Shashank Singh, Liam Livingstone, Shubham Ranjane, Manan Vohra, Ashton Turner, Riyan Parag (WK)