IPL in UAE: We have got the back-up for Steve Smith & co, says Rajasthan Royals boss

Dubai: The availability of foreign players from England and Australia, who will be playing a white ball series just on the eve of IPL, is expected to dent the strength of Rajasthan Royals the most in the first week of the league – as it raises question marks over four of their big guns in captain Steve Smith, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer.

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The chairman of Royals, Ranjit Barthakur, however, feels the team has the balance this season to cope with the first week even without them. ‘’I have only heard that there is a possibility of their quarantine period being relaxed since they are coming from another bio secure environment. However, we can fend for ourselves quite well if it doesn’t happen as we have got quite a balanced team this year and it also offers young players a window of opportunity,’’ said the Royals top honcho.

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Speaking to Gulf News during an exclusive interview after the arrival of the team, Barthakur said: ‘’There is paceman Oshane Thomas who has played some excellent cricket for the West Indies recently as well South African David Miller. The latter may be a little down in form now but he is an old hand in the IPL and can be an unifying factor of the team. In the first five matches, we are okay if win two to carry on with the campign.’’

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The Jaipur-based team, which provided the inaugural IPL with a fascinating underdog story by winning it under an inspirational captain Shane Warne in 2008, had not quite been able to recreate the magic in subsequent years. Last season, the franchise had a leadership crisis midway in the tournament with them eventually replacing a Royals loyalist Ajinkya Rahane with Smith at the helm – a move which improved the results marginally but the team fell way short of a play-off berth to end in the seventh position.

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‘’This time around, we have formed a trio in captain Smith, head coach Andrew McDonald and Zubin Bharucha, our Director of Cricket to be the brains trust and I believe they will provide us with the X-factor. Steve has been with us for many years – he is an astute brain and a great performer. He is so different from (Virat) Kohli but they do love and respect each other,’’ he said.

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It was in early August that the Royals management had released a documentary on their 2019 campaign titled ‘The Inside Story.’ A recurring theme which came up during the film was the team’s philosophy of ‘creating stars and not buying them,’ which was endorsed by Barthakur – who said it had been their driving force since their title-winning campaign in 2008.

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You see, we don’t believe in the principle of hire-and-fire. You can’t take punitive measures for not doing well in a series. We try to be as objective as we can and try to improve on areas where we have failed

– Ranjit Barthakur, Chairman of Rajasthan Royals###

‘’This started with 2008 – when the likes of Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja and Yousuf Pathan made a name for themselves. Last year, when we decided to pick up the teenaged Riyan Parag from our talent-hunt programme in Assam, no one knew about him. He did full justice to our faith in him – he was known as a batsman but we made him a bowler with the help of our mentor Shane Warne,’’ Barthakur said with a degree of pride.

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Parag, who looks a mature head on his young shoulders, has been joined by Yashasvi Jaiswal this time, another precocious talent who made headlines with a consistent performance in the Under-19 World Cup earlier this year – whom the Royals paid US$340,000 in the bid.

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‘’We looked at his (Jaiswal) cricketing style, maturity and the socio-economic conditions he came from before signing him,’’ the official explained.

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There has been often a perception that the Royals management, unlike a number of other teams – had been a little soft on the players or coaches despite not being able to deliver the goods. Barthakur, however, has an explanation for this: ‘’You see, we don’t believe in the principle of hire-and-fire. You can’t take punitive measures for not doing well in a series. We try to be as objective as we can and try to improve on areas where we have failed.

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‘’As a franchise, we feel that failure should be supported rather than be laughed at,’’ he said.

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Finally, how does the veteran official feel that his players will be able to tackle the ticklish element of mental health of living in a bio bubble for nearly three months? ‘‘We started tackling the issue when we made a series for our social media where the likes of Rahul Dravid, Robin Uthappa and Varun Aaron spoke out about their experiences in the lockdown. The idea was to let the players speak their mind…here we have chosen a hotel which has an open view and all the players will be on the same floor.

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‘‘The six days’ of quarantine will only make the players stronger. After that, cricket will act as the players’ blood pressure pill,’’ he added.

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