Appointing former Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara as Director of cricket and over dependence on English Players proved fatal for Rajasthan Royals, as inaugural champion finished the 2021 season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 7th spot with 10 points, having won only 5 games.
Since the 2018 season, it has been going downhill for the franchise as they finished 7th and 8th in the next two years, and have barely managed to avoid the wooden spoon this year. It is amply clear that not only in the last couple of years but in the history of the IPL, too much has been made of Royal’s inaugural win in 2008, which, in hindsight looks more like a flash in the pan. From 2009 to 2012, the Royals alternated between 6th and 7th positions, respectively. From 2013 to 2015, they made it to the play-off twice and narrowly missed it with a 5th place finish in 2014. That perhaps was the best ever phase (at least a three-year window) even if they didn’t make it to the final even once. In 2016 and 2017 the team was banned for two years following the spot-fixing scandal of 2014 in which three of their players were arrested, and after the investigation, the franchise was suspended for two years for its involvement in illegal betting and match-fixing.
Overall, the Royals have lost more matches (86) than it has won (84) in the 175 matches played since 2008. They were simply lucky to beat Chennai Super Kings in a tense match by a narrow margin of three wickets due to the exceptional brilliance of Yusuf Pathan (3 for 22 in 4 overs and 56 off just 39 balls and when he came to bat his team was tottering at 42 for 3 chasing 164) in the IPL final of 2008. Royals must be forever thankful to the Baroda all-rounder who has unwittingly masked their failure single-handedly for more than a decade.
One can blame the luck for a season or two, or some unfortunate injuries to key players during the critical stages of the tournament but if the team barely managed to reach the playoffs three times after winning the title in 2008, it is perhaps evidently clear that the franchise owners are repeating the same mistakes over and again.
For this season, the biggest mistake that Rajasthan Royals committed is to appoint Sangakkara as director of cricket! How could you explain the appointment of Sangakkara for the top post despite his poor record as captain with the Deccan Chargers (Hyderabad) and Punjab? That Sanga has little or no coaching experience and the franchise went by his formidable reputation as a player (which of course most teams do as was the case with Jacques Kallis appointment with Kolkata Knight Riders or Simon Katich with Royal Challengers Bangalore) and no one from the franchise is yet to explain the sacking of the Australian Andrew McDonald who has made a reputation for himself as an excellent T20 coach.
With due respect to all his batting records, Sanga, even during his playing days, was never considered a shrewd tactician! Even now, as he sits in the left of his country’s Sports Minister as a member of Sports Council (Mahela Jayawardene sits on the right side), his contribution is highly questionable! For Royals, which is famous for smart buying during IPL auctions, Sangakkara couldn’t pick a single future investment player or an underdog as director of cricket.
“He is a good speaker. Very very good actually. We still remembers his MCC Spirit of Cricket Lecture. But that’s it. You can’t expect from Sangakkara to be a tactician like his good friend and business partner Mahela Jayawardene. It was quite evident from the first day that Rajasthan Royals committed a big blunder. Now they have paid a heavy price for their decision” a Sri Lanka Cricket expert told Cricket Age.
Over dependence and over excitement in buying English players also played a big role in franchise’s poor performance. In recent years, English players have been in news for skipping the IPL more than any other country’s cricketers.With Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer in their team, the franchise was perhaps interesting to an English audience. However, for IPL UAE leg, none of the player turned up, due to different reasons.
“The English players are very heavily paid. They do not have that much problem in skipping the IPL, unlike the other nations. Because the English players are paid quite well, the Board is able to tighten the screws a little bit more. Because the financial loss does not pinch you that much, you are able to choose country over club. That’s what I feel,” former India player Aakash Chopra said.
Then, undermining the role of a fine captain also spoiled Royals 2021 IPL campaign, same as previous years.
Over the last few seasons, the Royals choice for the role of captaincy has been baffling which plays such a pivotal role in any team’s sustained dominance (look at the examples of MS Dhoni, Rohit Sharma, and Gautam Gambhir in the IPL). Sanju Samson’s indifferent body language earlier this season during the India leg didn’t impress Virender Sehwag.
“His teammates don’t appear too happy with him being the captain. But this is a fact that if a player remains in his own and suddenly, he is made the captain, it takes him time to talk to players, mix with them. So that I fell is proving to be difficult for Sanju Samson,” said Sehwag in a video chat.
In 2018 and 2019, the Royals gambled on Ajinkya Rahane’s leadership who has always found it difficult to adjust in white-ball cricket especially in the slam-bang nature of the T20 format. The franchise even had a fling with Australian Steven Smith who too like Rahane wasn’t an automatic selection in any T20 playing XI. The Royals may have forgotten that more than any theory, a charismatic captain is always the biggest difference in making a team champion in any format of the game as they themselves discovered this in 2008 when Shane Warne was at the helm of affairs. From Dravid (who took over for two years) to Shane Watson (who captained briefly) to Steven Smith, who was in charge since 2014, (save for time out when he was banned for his involvement in the ball-tampering incident in 2018) and subsequently the experiment of Rahane and Samson must have told the owners that it is high time to start afresh with a new vision and new philosophy from 2022 as most teams will go for major overhauling due to the grand auction which is not too far away.
So, in order to make a return in next year IPL, Royals need to bid adieu Sangakkara, eyeing on other country’s players forgetting English Cricketers. Otherwise, they will be finding it difficult to even survive, especially when two news teams will be added from next year!