Indian Premier League (IPL) inaugural edition winners Rajasthan Royals will make a return to the T20 extravaganza after an interval of two years, which they missed due to a match-fixing scandal. Under the captaincy of Ajinkya Rahane, Rajasthan will take on Sunrisers Hyderabad on April 9 in their first match of the IPL 2018.
Rahane was named the skipper of the Jaipur-based franchise after Steve Smith stepped down as the captain following the infamous ball-tampering that he planned in a Test match against South Africa in March.
"The game is bigger than any individual and we hold this thought close to our heart," Manoj Badale, the co-owner of Rajasthan Royals, said while announcing the news.
According to the Royals, Smith accepted the team's decision gracefully and said, "It's in the best interest of the Rajasthan Royals that I step down as captain, so the team can get ready for the start of the IPL without the ongoing distractions."
Badale agreed to Smith's decision and thanked his fortune as the team already had a capable successor in Rahane. "It is important that all cricket fans retain a balanced perspective on the situation. What happened in South Africa was clearly wrong, especially given that it appears to have been pre-meditated. That said, this will be a difficult time for Smith as well, given how much he cares about the game," he added.
Despite all the controversy, Rajasthan Royals look strong on paper with a bit of domestic talent and overseas' expertise. Former Australia spinner Shane Warne, who led Rajasthan to the title triumph in 2008, has been roped in as the Team Mentor ahead of the 11th season.
From the domestic circuit, stalwart Amol Muzumdar has been appointed as Rajasthan Royals batting coach, while former India spinner Sairaj Bahutule has joined in as the spin bowling coach. South African Paddy Upton has been retained as the head coach of the blue brigade.
Rajasthan see their batting strength around captain Rahane, England's Jos Buttler, D'Arcy Short of Australia and promising local talent such as Sanju Samson, Rahul Tripathi, Aryaman Birla, Prashant Chopra and Jatin Saxena.
England dynamic cricketer Ben Stokes will add to Royals' strength with all-round abilities, while India's Stuart Binny will lead young all-rounders in the camp like Krishnappa Gowtham, Shreyas Gopal and Mahipal Lomror.
Above all, Royals have their core asset in left-arm pacer Jaydev Unadkat, who became the costliest Indian bowler in the IPL Auction after the Jaipur franchise bought him for whopping Rs 11.5 Crore. Overseas speedsters Jofra Archer, Ben Laughlin and Dushmantha Chameera will grace Rajasthan's pace line-up that also includes Dhawal Kulkarni and Anureet Singh.
The spin department of the Shane Warne-mentored side look unpredictable as it comprises uncapped spinners Sudhesan Midhun, Ankit Sharma and Zahir Khan of Afghanistan.
RAJASTHAN ROYALS 2018 SQUAD
Ajinkya Rahane (C), Heinrich Klaasen, Ben Stokes, Jaydev Unadkat, Sanju Samson, Jofra Archer, Krishnappa Gowtham, Jos Buttler, D'Arcy Short, Rahul Tripathi, Dhawal Kulkarni, Zahir Khan, Ben Laughlin, Stuart Binny, Dushmantha Chameera, Anureet Singh, Aryaman Birla, Sudhesan Midhun, Shreyas Gopal, Prashant Chopra, Jatin Saxena, Ankit Sharma, Mahipal Lomror.