The unforgettable highs from the Royals’ IPL 2021 season

A season full of heartbreaks, little joys, but also incredible moments and priceless learnings- Rajasthan Royals’ ‘so-near-yet-so-far’ IPL 2021 was special in its own way. From starting the season in bittersweet fashion, then making our way up, to having a hard fall towards the end of the road, the Royals had it all.

Looking back on the season gone by, here are the unforgettable highs from an otherwise forgettable IPL season.

Jos Buttler’s scintillating hundred

One of our biggest wins of the season came against SRH during the India leg, in a high-scoring affair. Putting some patchy form behind him in style, Jos came up with one of his best-ever T20 performances, with a 64-ball 124 to help RR put 220/3 on the board and eventually win the game by 55 runs.

The total included a 150-run partnership between Buttler and Sanju which was also the highest partnership for us this season. We did miss Buttler in the UAE leg as he and Louise were blessed with their second child, but his IPL season ended on a high with this marvelous hundred.

RR’s poetic justice against PBKS

Sport is a great equalizer. Our season began at the Wankhede with a heart-wrenching 4-run defeat against Punjab Kings. Sanju Samson, on his debut as captain, scored a 63-ball 119 in a mammoth chase of 222, only to fall short by inches on the last ball.

But a moment of redemption came along with the UAE leg, with Kartik Tyagi pulling off a miracle in the final over against the same team. With just four runs required off the last over, the youngster fired in yorker after yorker, bagged two wickets and only gave away ONE solitary single to help us win the thriller by 2 runs, out of nowhere. The joy in the camp was unparalleled, as the sport itself had come to heal broken hearts from a past defeat.

United in the good and bad days

As a team, you’re bound to face good days and bad days in almost equal measure, especially in a tournament like the IPL. While the good days bring about an intoxicating amount of joy, the effects of it are often forgotten during the lows. While the good days are highlighted more, the lessons that the bad days teach us are often less spoken about. The Royals family is known, rightly so, for sticking together through the ups and downs. The way we behave and treat each other remains the same, whether we win or lose.

Kumar Sangakkara, our Director of Cricket, said the most iconic lines this season after our defeat against RCB in the UAE leg. “We don\"t play the blame game in our franchise. We win together, we lose together," he said at the post-match media conference.

Yashasvi’s dream arc

An 18-year-old Yashasvi burst onto the scene last year after an impressive showing in the 2020 U-19 World Cup. That, clubbed with his sheer talent and domestic experience, convinced the Royals thinktank to sign him ahead of IPL 2020, and also start him in that season’s first match. In the three matches that he played last year though, he managed to amass only 40 runs, at a disappointing strike rate of 90.

He wasn’t in the XI when this season began in April too, but worked hard during the break at the Royals’ High Performance Centre in Nagpur – spending over 6 weeks without any distraction to work on his game.

The UAE leg then changed the narrative of his IPL journey altogether. Yashavi emerged as the Powerplay hero we were looking for, especially in the absence of our mainstays Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes. Along with Evin Lewis, Yashasvi formed a formidable opening partnership showcasing some brilliant and brutal strokeplay in the Powerplay. In fact, RR’s 81/1 in the opening six against CSK was the highest PP score for any team in the league stage of IPL 2021. It was also the match where Yashasvi scored his maiden IPL fifty, off just 20 balls. That knock, and his overall form in UAE, was reward not only for the youngster’s natural talent, but also his resilience and dogged hard work, which turned around his season.

Twist of fate for young debutants

The IPL is the biggest platform there is for young cricketing talent, and at the Royals we’ve used that platform to springboard some fantastic careers. This was a season that saw many players make their tournament debuts. We had two overseas men play their first IPL match with us – as Glenn Phillips and Tabraiz Shamsi featured in pink in the UAE. But it was the young Indian talent that came to the fore at different points of the season.

Chetan Sakariya, who finally made it to an IPL squad after various personal and professional setbacks, went on to play all 14 league matches for RR and even made his international debut in July.

Meanwhile, pacers Akash Singh and Kuldip Yadav made their debuts towards the end of the league stage after a season-long wait. Wicketkeeper-batter Anuj Rawat made his debut this season as well, playing two matches. As Chetan had said in an interview with us, “once I bowled my first delivery for RR, I never looked back”. Hopefully, it turns out similarly for the rest of the young boys.

Rahul Tewatia’s love affair with Sharjah 

It wasn’t everything, it didn’t win us the game from an almost impossible situation, but the Rahul Tewatia show at the end of our IPL dream for the season is one to remember. Sharjah wasn’t the batting paradise we remember from 2020. However, his 36-ball 44 against Kolkata Knight Riders in the worst possible situation was something to cherish for the Royals, and for him, before we bowed out of the tournament.

Tewatia came out to the middle when our innings was already in a shambles, and we stared at a record low total. But Tewatia, who hadn’t had the best season with the bat till then, showed he’s made of sterner stuff, and played a super knock to provide some semblance of respectability to the total.

Sanju Samson’s dream form

The biggest, the most significant story of Rajasthan Royals’ season has been skipper Sanju Samson’s form. Ever since he made his captaincy debut, it was almost as if Sanju the batter was undergoing a Pokemon-like evolution. While he insisted that captaincy won’t come in the way of his batting, it turned out to be a boon for his form and the team’s performances. 484 runs, including the 63-ball 119 against PBKS, averaging 40 and striking at 136, Sanju’s batting found consistency, and peaked with responsibility. His camaraderie with Sangakkara, his care towards players young and old, and his calmness under pressure make him all the more special as captain and an individual. He will only develop further as a player and leader in years to come, which makes the next IPL cycle hugely exciting for the team.

All in all, the Royals have stuck together through thick and thin during an IPL season like no other, played in two countries in two parts. The players, both as individuals and a team, evolved during the period, and formed a bond with each other and the coaching staff that will be remembered at the franchise for many years. We finished 7th in the points table, but our season touched lives, transformed careers, and also brought some reason to find confidence for future challenges.