The Indian Premier League was uncharted territory for the world of cricket and few knew what to expect from the inaugural season - but there was one thing most pundits agreed on, and that was the Rajasthan Royals had no chance of winning it. They had spent considerably less than other teams in the player auction, and some of their recruits were relative unknowns. Plus they were led by the legendary but unpredictable Shane Warne. Was he past his best?
When the Royals lost their first match comprehensively – a nine wicket defeat to Delhi Daredevils, predictions that the team was likely to struggle seemed to be confirmed. But those predictions reckoned without what a fantastic team spirit both on and off the playing field can achieve. Warne's captaincy and leadership turned out to be a revelation – his mantra of calmness no matter how pressurised the situation soon started to yield results.
In their first home game at Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur, the Royals played against the Kings XI Punjab and registered their first victory – a 6 wicket triumph. Not for the last time, Shane Watson was declared man of the match for his unbeaten 76 off 49 balls. That was followed by a 3 wicket win against one of the pre tournament favourites, the Deccan Chargers in Hyderabad. This victory was Rajasthan’s second successful run chase in a row, as Yusuf Pathan secured a man of the match award with bowling figures of 2 wickets for 20 runs in 4 overs and 61 runs from 28 balls.
In the next match the spotlight was back on Shane Watson as he successfully engineered another run chase – this time against the Royal Challengers in Bangalore. This win was even more emphatic than the previous two triumphs – a 7 wicket victory with Watson securing two wickets for 20 runs and smashing 61 not out off a mere 41 balls.
The Royals’ next game was a home fixture against the Kolkata Knight Riders - and another future star was born in the form of the “Goa Cannonball” - diminutive opener Swapnil Asnodkar. He received the man of the match award for a fine knock of 60 off just 34 balls – and the Royals emerged victorious by the comprehensive margin of 45 runs.
Yet another victory soon followed, this time against the Chennai Super Kings - many fans’ pre tournament tips for the title. The Royals unorthodox fast bowler, Pakistan's Sohail Tanvir, picked up a remarkable 6 wickets for 14 runs in his 4 overs. Not surprisingly he secured the man of the match award, despite, or maybe because of, bowling off the wrong foot!
They say all good things come to an end – so it was perhaps inevitable that the winning streak would too – it’s just a shame that it was against arch rivals Mumbai Indians and by such a large margin, 7 wickets in Navi Mumbai. But the Royals were soon back to winning ways, defeating the Kings XI Punjab - and then incredibly winning the next five games in a row.
Against the Deccan Chargers at home, all rounder Yusuf Pathan once again came to the fore, winning his second man of the match award for his 37-ball 68 as Rajasthan won by 8 wickets. There were then two more home wins in rapid succession. The Delhi Daredevils were beaten by 3 wickets with Shane Watson again punishing the opposition. He ended up with 2 wickets for a measly 21 runs in 4 overs and then sealed the deal with a 40-ball 74. The Royals then followed that up with a 65 run thrashing of RCB. South African “Springbok Rock At The Top” Graeme Smith securing the man of the match award for his unbeaten 49-ball 75.
The Royals next fixture was in the magnificent Eden Gardens stadium in Kolkata. But Rajasthan weren’t intimidated – Yusuf Pathan in particular rose to the occasion, hitting an unbeaten 48 off just 18 balls, Along with that destructive batting performance, Pathan delivered an impressive bowling display – 1 for 14 from 2 overs. The Royals ended up winning by the comprehensive margin of 6 wickets.
The next match was a more tightly contested affair against the Chennai Super Kings at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. The Royals proved they could win a nail biter, as they triumphed by 10 runs, with CSK failing in their run chase at the last. A nail biting win against CSK? Perhaps it was a portent for things to come…
The Royals last home game of the season was a chance to celebrate – they’d already qualified for the play offs. But the team didn’t ease up against the Mumbai Indians. They secured a 5 wicket win with Sohail Tanvir once again proving devastating, taking four wickets for just 14 runs. Perhaps finally taking their feet off the pedal, the team lost to the Kings XI Punjab in their final round robin game, but they had easily made it to the semi finals.
The Royals had defied all the pundits’ expectations, securing an impressive 11 wins out of 14 record in the preliminary round matches and emerging undefeated at home on their way to topping the points table. Shane Warne's captaincy and coaching was a revelation. He was proving to be a truly inspiring figure – and numerous players had exceeded expectations. But now they were back to square one – it was sudden death.
The Royals’ semi final was against the Delhi Daredevils in Mumbai, the very team who had pummelled them in the first match of the tournament. But that was now ancient history – and the Royals proved it, thrashing them by an astonishing 105 runs. Shane Watson again shone with a 29 ball fifty and 3 wickets for a miserly 10 runs in his 3 overs, The Royals had secured their place in the final against MS Dhoni's Chennai Super Kings…
The match turned out to be a classic – the perfect end to the first ever IPL tournament. It couldn’t have been any more exciting – with the game going to a nail biting final ball. With the scores level and one ball remaining, the Royals bowling hero Sohail Tanvir was on strike with skipper Warne at the other end. If Tanvir hadn’t scored a run, the match would have gone to a ‘bowl out’… but he had different ideas. The Pakistani told his captain not to worry when they chatted in the middle of the track before the big moment – and then he calmly hit the winning runs through wide mid on.
Exultant scenes followed as Rajasthan were crowned the inaugural champions – as Shane Warne said to his delighted players and coaches, no-one else can ever say they won the first IPL!
Yusuf Pathan was once again man of the match, with bowling figures of 3 wickets for 22 runs and a spectacular knock of 56. Fellow all-rounder Shane Watson, who went into the tournament with concerns from commentators about his fitness record, proved his doubters wrong, winning the man of the tournament award for scoring a massive 472 runs and picking up 17 wickets. Sohail Tanvir won the first ever Purple Cap in IPL history, for taking the most number of wickets in the tournament. A fine roster of stars – but many previously unsung, and very youthful, heroes also delivered when it mattered.
This was a truly incredible triumph for a team of underdogs. Just as their inspirational leader Shane Warne had asked them to – his band of brothers “found a way” to win.