IPL 2022: Making Rajasthan Royals cool again

It may not have been the year the Indian Premier League title finally landed in the Royal Challengers Bangalore treasury, despite the invitation of ee saala cup namde. But the Rajasthan Royals, who have always joked about brief compliments and tireless deceptions, had a season that naturally drew comparisons to their first IPL title in 2008.

Of course, because there wasn’t anything to compare in the years between 2008 and 2022. There were the shortest sparks when they actually won the IPL Eliminator in 2013, only to be knocked out in qualifiers 2 for the Mumbai Indians. The standard instead was for RR to have a simple winning streak, usually early in the season, before predictably running out of steam at the end of the business. On several occasions, they broke into the top four, but were promptly knocked out in the Eliminator. Alternating between hefty bets on stars that don’t often come out well, and “investing” — a favorite RR buzzword — in little-known local talent, the franchise has done little more than offset the numbers for the vast majority of its existence.

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This year has, finally, been refreshingly different. Nine victories in 14 league matches meant the fans had already engaged with enthusiasm, with chants of ‘Rajasthan Gitega’. [Rajasthan will win] When the DJ asked them for the classic “jeetega bhai jeetega”. The orange and purple (common) hat holders, Jos Buttler and Yuzvendra Chahal, are both from RR.

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Butler started the championship with three centuries in seven games, then dropped out in the second half of the season, before returning with a record-equaling fourth TMT in Playoffs 2 against RCB.

“I had some honest conversations with some of the close people around me (coaches) Kumar Sangakara and Trevor Penny,” Butler said after Friday’s win. “I was feeling a little stressed, distracted and was trying to quell that, and that was just a week ago or so I opened up inside and talking about it made me feel so much better going to Kolkata, and those roles gave me confidence that helped (against RCB)”.

Some of the credit for creating that kind of enabling atmosphere, as well as for some clever tactical calls throughout the season, should go to captain Sanju Samsun. Even in Qualifier 2, after seeing that Glenn Maxwell was targeting two veterans, Samson brought back Trent Bolt. Far from this point, Bolt knocked Maxwell out with the last ball on his end, but Samson was receptive enough to deprive Maxwell of his strongest suit – spinning strikes.

Samson’s shows in the past have been a window into how the RR seasons could unravel. He leaves people thinking about the timing of his strokes at first, but then he loses that touch and consistency and stumbles all over another decent season that could have meant something big. But he led a star-studded team this time around and also did a reasonably good job with the bat.

“Sanju has been exceptional. He started with a very difficult test last season with a young team and a lot of turmoil due to covid bubbles, a tournament of two halves but he has really developed into his role,” said Sangakara after the second qualifier.

“He is a very soft spoken and reserved person. He is exceptionally skilled with bats. He has shown a lot of passion and hunger to take on this pilot role of captain. Keeping the wicket, the captain, and being the best player in your class alongside Joss Butler, is not the kind of role that It should be filled in easily, but he has done it really well this season.”

It can’t be compared to what the late Shane Warren achieved with a largely inexperienced group in 2008, but no matter what happens in Sunday’s final, 2022 will still be the year that the Samson – and Butler, Chahal and the rest – made the Rajasthan Royals great again.

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