The Rajasthan Royals (RR) come into the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL 2020) without many expectations.
Steve Smith's side have already been written off by many experts and pundits, but as they always are, RR are more than capable of pulling off a surprise. With an enviable blend of experience and youth in the roster, RR can genuinely make a run for the playoffs despite having largely flown under the radar so far.
Ahead of IPL 2020, we attempt to predict RR's ideal playing XI.
RR's predicted playing XI for IPL 2020
Note: All players from England and Australia have been assumed to be available, with no official word yet regarding their participation in the first few games of IPL 2020. While it is almost impossible that Ben Stokes plays in the first few games of IPL 2020, there has been no official word regarding his participation as well.
Openers: Jos Buttler, Yashasvi Jaiswal
Jos Buttler has been a revelation at the top of the order for RR in IPL, and has notched up consistent runs at alarming strike rates. The Englishman has shared the gloves with Sanju Samson, but in IPL 2020, it is likely that neither wicket-keeper is entrusted with the responsibility.
A number of batsmen are capable of partnering Buttler at the top of the order. Robin Uthappa was excellent in the role when he performed it for the Kolkata Knight Riders, and Sanju Samson is more than capable of opening the innings as well.
But the man who is likely to get the nod in Yashasvi Jaiswal, owing to the fact that RR always promote young talent and the appealing right-left combination he forms with Buttler. The 2020 U-19 World Cup hero will be keen on making an immediate impact in the IPL.
Middle Order: Sanju Samson, Steve Smith (c), Robin Uthappa (wk)
There is a huge cloud surrounding the batting positions of these three batsmen, but this is the order that will be best for the team.
Given Sanju Samson's capabilities against the new ball and the fact that he has batted in the top 3 for the majority of his IPL career, he will come in at No. 3. The Kerala batsman has been on the fringes of the Indian T20I for some time now, and will be keen on staking a claim for a place in the T20 World Cup squad.
Captain Steve Smith shouldn't bat any lower than No. 4, which pushes Robin Uthappa down to No. 5. The former Australian captain will play the anchor role for RR in IPL 2020, and the other batsmen in the middle order will bat around him.
He hasn't been in great form in the T20I format, and didn't cross 20 runs in any of the three games that he played recently against England. However, Smith is a world-class player irrespective of the format and will lead RR from the front in IPL 2020. Like it did for him with Australia, leadership will elevate the unorthodox batsman's game.
Uthappa will have to play at an unfamiliar No. 5 role, and he didn't do very well for KKR when he was deployed lower down the order. However, he has the ability to play the big shots and his experience will definitely help him adjust to the position.
Both Samson and Buttler are far more athletic than Uthappa, and this might lead to the 34-year-old taking up the wicket-keeping duties in IPL 2020. He will have to at his best in the UAE against the spinners on the slow and low tracks.
All-rounders: Ben Stokes, Riyan Parag, Rahul Tewatia
Ben Stokes hasn't flown to the UAE yet, and it is highly likely that he will miss a significant part of IPL 2020. However, with no official word yet, we don't have a choice but to include him in this XI. The Englishman has been incredible for his country at the international level, but his IPL numbers don't show the same consistency.
If he eventually plays in IPL 2020, he will be keen on setting the record straight. If Stokes is unavailable throughout the tournament, RR might replace him with South African batsman David Miller or English all-rounder Tom Curran, who would be a like-for-like replacement.
Riyan Parag and Rahul Tewatia will be the two spin-bowling all-rounders in RR's XI for IPL 2020. While the former is all but guaranteed to be a part of the team given how highly he is rated, Tewatia should get the nod over the likes of Mayank Markande due to his ability with the bat.
Bowlers: Jofra Archer, Shreyas Gopal, Jaydev Unadkat
Jofra Archer will take up the final overseas slot in RR's playing XI for IPL 2020. The Englishman's raw pace and aggression will add a new dimension to the bowling attack, and he will be entrusted with the new ball and the final overs of the innings.
Shreyas Gopal, who has been quietly excellent for RR in the IPL, is the final spinner in the team. The Karnataka leggie has yet to be capped by India, and he will be keen on changing that with his performances in IPL 2020. It is also worth noting that both Archer and Gopal are handy with the bat, which means that RR's batting will be quite deep in IPL 2020.
The final spot in this XI is a toss-up between Ankit Rajpoot, Kartik Tyagi, Akash Singh and Jaydev Unadkat, and the Saurashtra pacer is likely to get the nod due to his experience at the death and the variety that he brings to the attack. The left-armer has been expensive in the IPL since his excellent season with the Rising Pune Supergiant, and much like the other players on this list, he has a point to prove.
RR's Predicted Playing XI for IPL 2020:
Jos Buttler, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Sanju Samson, Steve Smith (c), Robin Uthappa (wk), Ben Stokes, Riyan Parag, Rahul Tewatia, Jofra Archer, Shreyas Gopal, Jaydev Unadkat