The world of the IPL, with all the star players, cheerleaders, stakeholders, big money and glamour has been as exciting as it has been mysterious. Loyal fans, who want to get up, close and personal with the franchises, have often been left disappointed, with restricted movements and constant surveillance.
Similar to Gatsby’s “green light”, the knowledge of what goes into making an IPL team has remained elusive since its inception.
Rajasthan Royals, the perpetual underdogs of the Indian Premier League, have now give an insight into their training, strategies and off-field camaraderie in a short documentary series “Inside Story”. With a camera crew following the cricketers of the team throughout the 2019 season of the league, the demi-gods shed their tag as they display their vulnerabilities, hard drive for success and the fear of failure.
The documentary not only helps in bridging the gap, but also reveals how the lines of diversity are blurred as players from across the globe come together for a single purpose. I watched the three-part series and here are my takeaways from it:
Reasons for Captain Rahane's Sacking
The Royals had anything but an ideal start to their campaign in IPL 2019, losing six of their first eight games, which meant that the side had to win at least five of their remaining six matches to make the top-four.
Ajinkya Rahane, who was leading the side was unable to come up with a spirited showing with both bat and as a leader, which prompted the Men Who Matter to drop the Indian from the role. Steven Smith, who had been out of action in the 2018 edition of the IPL due to his involvement in the ball-tampering saga, took over the reins, with the management believing that Smith excelled under pressure.
"“The burden of captaincy was weighing on Ajinkya’s shoulders and was affecting his batting, whereas Steve as an individual likes to take on some kind of burden.”" - Zubin Bharucha, Royals’ Team Director
The move paid off almost instantly, as Rahane, without the burden of captaincy, smashed a fine century against Delhi Capitals and followed it up with scores of 34 and 39 to give a glimpse of his T20 talent. Smith, on the other hand, smashed two successive fifties and took his team to three wins in the four games that he captained. However, by the time he left the camp to prepare for the World Cup, his team’s chances were all but over.
They eventually finished seventh with 11 points, one win away from making the top-four.
Buttler Questions Dhoni for Run-in With Umpires
The usually calm and composed MS Dhoni was caught in controversy after he walked out to the field during a league game between Royals and Chennai Super Kings at Jaipur. Furious that the on-field umpires did not call out and award his team a waist-high no-ball in the last over of the game, Dhoni stomped out from the dressing room with CSK needing eight of the last three balls.
The unprecedented move by the Indian, who usually keeps his emotions in check was met with criticism all over, with Jos Buttler too voicing his opinion.
“Walking out onto the field is probably not the right thing to do,” he says.
Though CSK ended up winning the game in the last ball, Dhoni’s actions made bigger news.
Where Stokes Ranks RR
Throughout the screening, the Royals management believes in creating a “family” atmosphere for their players. This is harped on by all-rounder Ben Stokes, who ranked the Royals as one of the best teams that he has played for in his career.
With England and his county side Durham ranked as the top two, the cricketer added that Royals was a side that will remain forever close to him.
Addressing the dressing room before leaving for the World Cup, Stokes is heard saying, “This is now the third team that I have added onto something that I hold very dear to my heart, and that I am not just turning up and playing for.”
The 29-year old has represented Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash League along with Rising Pune Supergiant among others in his career as well.
Why Unadkat, Again?
“We are not interested as much about what we pay an individual player but we are interested in acquiring a particular skill,” says Bharucha.
Rajasthan Royals were in the news as they shelled out huge sums of money for fast bowler Jaydev Unadkat in the 2018 and the 2019 seasons, bagging him for INR 11.5 crore and INR 8.4 crore respectively. After a stellar run in the 2017 edition of the league, where Unadkat bagged 24 wickets at an average of 13.41, the Indian has been unable to create much of an impact in the last two years bagging just 21 wickets across 26 matches while conceding runs at more than 10 an over. Despite being released by the franchise before the IPL 2020 auctions, the Royals got Unadkat on board yet again for the upcoming season for INR 3 crore.
While the amount might have shocked pundits, the franchise were eager to get on board an Indian quick, which explains why Unadkat was much sought-after.
Buttler on Mankading Scandal "“It is very hard to say if it is morally right or wrong as it is within the laws of the game. But if you want to just interpret it with no emotion or no spirit of the game, you can say, well, that’s how it is..”" - Jos Buttler
While Mankading is legally permissible, it is often considered against the spirit of the game.
Rajasthan’s Jos Buttler was the victim of the new rule in cricket as he was mankaded by Kings XI Punjab’s Ravichandran Ashwin in a league game last year, when he was on 69 off 43, chasing 185 at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium.
The wicket-keeper had come down quite heavily on the off-spinner then and criticized him for acting against the spirit of cricket whilst also accusing him purposely delaying his delivery stride on purpose to Mankad Buttler. The “Inside Story” sees the Englishman echo his earlier views, and while he agrees that Mankading is within the rules, he admits that it did leave a bitter aftertaste.
Franchise’s Future Policy
In the beginning of the documentary, last year’s brand ambassador and former skipper Shane Warne makes an appearance and sheds light on how the franchise had gone on to win the first edition of the league sans big faces. “We were the least expensive franchise in 2008. We had a team that had hardly played first class cricket, let alone experienced players. The players were 17-19 and no one had heard of them. After being hammered in the first game, we went on to win the tournament.”
The story of the underdogs not only grabbed the attention of the global public but also helped them form their motto going ahead into the tournament - “We do not buy stars, we make stars.”
Royals, have, thus, tied up with a number of academies as they look to unearth, scout and hone young talent over the last 12 years. The first IPL team to back Redbull Campus Cricket that sees 350 colleges from across the globe take part, Royals are also promoting women’s cricket in their off- season.
“Colts and Sparks” remains a nationwide talent hide program where young players, including girls, get a platform to perform in front of the Royals scouts. 69 players are then selected and divided into the Royals Colts (boys) and Royal Sparks (girls). By creating tournaments for girls and organizing fitness camps, the side looks to promote a face of cricket that is often ignored, because, as Stokes says, “It is not about what is here and now, it is about what is down the line as well.”
The Rise of Riyan Parag
Every season, the Royals throw up an unlikely hero, and it was Riyan Parag who stole the show in 2019. The 17-year old talks about his love for the game and how he was least expecting a bid during the auctions.
"“I had switched off the TV and was thinking about the IPL when my mom screamed thatI had been picked.”" - Riyan Parag
The emotions in the sentence give way to a sense of determination as Parag lands in Jaipur eager to impress and make the IPL his own.
Egged on by Stokes before his debut IPL game against the CSK, where he was advised to pretend that he was playing gully friend with a friend, the teenager went on to notch scores of 16, 43, 4, 47 and 50 at a strike rate of nearing 127. The youngest half-centurion in the history of the tournament thus became another example of how the Royals groom young talent.
Looking Ahead to 2020
Despite the Royals ending at seventh spot last season, they were never out of the competition till the 13 th match of the league game that ended in a washout. Their campaign was described as a close-miss in the team meeting with the stakeholders after the season. The documentary ends with Bharucha listing out possible options and players that they should explore ahead of the 2020 tournament.
“We need a quality spinner, and possibly look at a left-hand option. Just two or three tiny things and our focus will be on that area.”
Pointing at their inability to get breakthroughs in the middle overs, Bharucha admits, “We just did not have another bowler except Shreyas Gopal. Like Gopal who bowls four overs every single game, we need another spinner who will bowl four overs every single game.”
This year, they have seemed to fill that void by getting Mayank Markande on board and how he helps his team will be interesting to witness.
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