Rajasthan Royals kick-started their eventful Indian Premier League journey when they won the tournament’s inaugural edition in 2008. Australian legend Shane Warne was Rajasthan Royals’ first captain back then as the only full-time non-Indian captain in IPL 2008.

That set Warne apart. That and lifting the first IPL trophy. And to think, Warne probably wouldn’t have made it to the league had it not been for Rajasthan Royals.

Retired from international cricket in 2007, Warne didn’t attract any bids during the inaugural IPL auction other than from the Royals, which acquired the legend’s services at base price. Warne was promptly named skipper. 

With a vastly inexperienced squad, Shane Warne brought his man-management skills to the fore, to help Rajasthan Royals emerge as the unlikely champions of that season.

“We had young kids that hadn’t played First-Class cricket, just 17-18 years of age. No one gave us a chance,” Warne said several years later. “The key to IPL, what I found out and thought about was, the first thing, you have to win people’s hearts, you have to win the players’ hearts, that's the first thing you have to do.”

While he was winning hearts, Rajasthan Royals’ first match in the IPL ended in a loss following a nine-wicket thrashing at the hands of Delhi Daredevils.

“First game we got absolutely hammered by Delhi,” Warne recalled. “Virender Sehwag smashes us all over the park, we lose. I walk into the dressing room. There are guys crying. So I stood there and said, ‘Boys, have I missed something?’

“Everyone's sort of looking around, I said, ‘Has someone died? We lost a cricket game, but we have still got 13 more games. We are okay.

“Next game is at home. I think I got about 4/16 or something (3/19) and bowled pretty well and we won. I walked into the dressing room again and they were yelling and screaming and singing and I said, ‘Boys we can't go from here to here.”

After their loss in the opener, Rajasthan Royals bounced back strongly to win the next 11 of their 12 games. They topped the eight-team table and qualified for the knock-outs in style.

In the semi-finals, Rajasthan Royals were up against the Delhi Daredevils. This time, the Royals won by a massive 105 runs. Batting first, Rajasthan scored 192/9 with valuable contributions from Shane Watson (52) and Yusuf Pathan (45). Delhi, meanwhile, skittled out for a paltry 87 with Munaf Patel and Shane Watson picking three wickets apiece.

The final was a close affair with Rajasthan inching out Chennai Super Kings for a three-wicket win off the last ball. Chasing 164, Rajasthan Royals were in dire straits at 42/3, before Yusuf Pathan joined Shane Watson for a rearguard action. They added a crucial 65 runs before Shane Warne and Sohail Tanvir took them home. Yusuf Pathan was the Player of the Match for his 56 off 39 balls and three wickets with the ball. Shane Watson finished as the Player of the Tournament award for his tally of 472 runs and 17 wickets.

“Warnie knew how to pick the best parts out of individuals and pull that together, so all the pieces of the puzzle fit together,” Watson summed up Warne’s captaincy. “And he knew how to communicate with individuals as well to make them feel like they were supermen when they went out to the field.”

More than the title, Shane Warne beautifully marshalled a group of young and inexperienced cricketers. Ravindra Jadeja and Sohail Tanvir went on to make their international debut on the back of their performances for Rajasthan Royals in IPL 2008. Yusuf Pathan too strengthened his credentials as a big hitter in the marquee event.

“Our team was very small, and he made that team win,” Pathan said. “IPL has become massive. But even if it grows to be a 100 years old, one name that will always precede everything will be that of Shane Warne.”

Shane Warne went on to captain Rajasthan Royals for three more seasons in the IPL from 2009 to 2011. He was unable to replicate his success in subsequent seasons.

But, Warne along with Rajasthan Royals, continued churning out talented prospects like Ajinkya Rahane, Naman Ojha and Stuart Binny who went on to make their names in the international and domestic circuit.  

Warne is still the most successful captain at Rajasthan Royals, winning a total of 31 matches out of 56, the most by any to date.

Shane Warne IPL captaincy record

  • Seasons: 4
  • Matches: 56
  • Won: 31
  • Lost: 24
  • Tied: 1
  • Win Percentage: 55.35
  • Titles: 1

South Africa’s Graeme Smith was also in the Rajasthan Royals team when they won that title in 2008.

“Royals of 08 were just amazing and we managed to forge a spirit, a team camaraderie and a way of playing that was just way ahead of everybody else,” Smith said. “Warnie was probably one that led the way from that perspective.”