The 2009 IPL was moved at the last minute from India to South Africa because of security concerns – and that wasn’t the only change the Royals had to contend with. The BCCI imposed a ban on Pakistani players, so that meant no Sohail Tanvir and no Kamral Akmal – two players who had performed with distinction in the triumphant inaugural campaign of 2008. In addition, one of the stars of IPL 2008, Shane Watson, was unavailable for the whole of this IPL because he was on international duty for Australia against Pakistan in the UAE.
Despite these setbacks, hopes were still high – after all, the Royals were defending champions and still led by their charismatic talisman, Shane Warne. They had also retained their “Springbok Rock At The Top” in Graeme Smith and recruited the versatile English all-rounder Dimitri Mascarenas and one of the fastest bowlers in the world, Shaun Tait to their ranks. Add into the mix some terrific young Indian talent, epitomised by the versatile Ravindra Jadeja and the unorthodox skiddy bowler Kamran Khan, and the Royals were fully expected to be there or thereabouts come the play offs.
However, Rajasthan’s 2009 campaign couldn’t have got off to a worse start. Against the Royal Challengers Bangalore they were bundled out for the second lowest score in IPL history, a mere 58 runs in reply to the RCB total of 133. A 75 run defeat was an inauspicious beginning, but the Royals had lost the first match in 2008 by nine wickets and went on to win the tournament, so no-one was panicking.
Their next match was due to be against Mumbai Indians in Durban – but the heavens opened and the match was cancelled without a ball being bowled. Warne’s warriors sat in the dressing room frustrated that they would have to wait a little longer for their first win of the tournament.
When it came, in their next match, against the Kolkata Knight Riders, it couldn’t have happened in a more exciting fashion. The Royals scored 150 runs in their innings, thanks to some superb late hitting by youngster Abhishek Raut, but it looked like it wasn’t going to be enough when KKR took their turn to bat. The Knight Riders seemed to be coasting to victory, but cometh the hour – cometh the young man. Kamran Khan only had seven runs to defend in the last over, and when his first ball was a wide, Royals fans’ hearts sank. But Khan stuck to his guns and produced an excellent display of death bowling, even removing the legendary figure of Sourav Ganguly in the process. With KKR needing two runs off the last ball to win, Ishant Sharma could only manage a single, so the match headed to a Superover. It was becoming a classic – just the way the Royals like to win!
Skipper Warne audaciously asked Kamran Khan to bowl the Royals’ over – and he went for 15 runs, Chris Gayle hitting him for three successive fours. But the rookie had the last laugh, dispatching the West Indian last ball and keeping the target manageable. In fact more than manageable, in reality very gettable when a hitter like Yusuf Pathan has his eye in. Pathan stuck the first ball for a six over of mid-off, but with another 10 needed, he miscued the ball into the air and his team mates hearts were in their mouths. But the ball landed safely between long off and long on and Pathan went on to cash in on his good fortune - smashing the third ball over mid-on for a massive six and then a magnificent boundary over square leg to secure victory with two balls to spare. Pathan deservedly won the man of the match award for his superb all-round performance and the Royals celebrated in good fashion – young Raut showing his footwork skills extended to the dance floor as well as on the cricket pitch!
The Royals played at the same ground in their next match, and were a touch unlucky to be defeated by the Kings XI Punjab. A terrific all round performance by Yusuf’s brother Irfan led to a 27 run defeat – despite a valiant seventh wicket partnership between Jadeja and Warne which made the Kings XI fielders sweat for a while.
Before long the Rajasthan Royals were back into winning ways, with Yusuf again playing a blinder of an innings, an unbeaten 30 ball 62 helping the Royals beat Delhi Daredevils by 5 wickets.
Then the team were back on the road, travelling to Pretoria for a rematch against the team they beat in the 2008 final, Chennai Super Kings. The Royals couldn’t have got off to a better start – skipper Warne winning the toss, putting Dhoni’s team in and then his opening bowler getting a wicket first ball, Pathan dispatching Hayden. But from then on things went rapidly downhill, and the Super Kings ended up winning by 38 runs.
It was proving to be a ‘topsy turvy’ season for the Royals this time round – no winning streaks, just a series of tightly fought clashes, with the team often reliant on individual performances to see them over the line. Against the Deccan Chargers, Yusuf was back to his all-round best. He bowled well in his 4 overs with figures of 1 for 19 and contributed 24 runs off just 17 balls to help the Royals achieve a much needed three wicket victory.
Things continued to look up, with the Royals thrashing Kings XI Punjab by 78 runs in their return match in Durban. Graeme Smith back on song with his 44 ball 77. Another comfortable victory followed, with the Royals exacting revenge against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, prevailing by 7 wickets with Ohja scoring his second successive fifty. The Royals season seemed to be taking off…
But then Rajasthan were pegged back by two rapid defeats. The Royals lost another contest to the Chennai Super Kings, by 7 wickets and then Deccan Chargers posted their first ever win against Rajasthan in the IPL, by 53 runs.
Rajasthan avoided three defeats in a row thanks to an exciting victory over their arch rivals Mumbai Indians. The Royals posted a par target of 145 thanks to effective contributions from Rob Quiney (his first IPL 50) and Ravindra Jadeja, but Mumbai clearly fancied their chances of knocking them off. In fact they were so confident that they put Jayasuriya and Tendulkar in the middle order! That move backfired terribly and they found themselves in a mess at 26 for 3. When they finally came in, Jayasuriya and Tendulkar helped steady the ship, but with Mumbai struggling on 54 for 3 at the halfway stage, the tide was definitely in the Royals’ favour.
Warne then worked his magic to see the back of Jayasuriya before Duminy was bowled after a bowling change 2 overs later. After an expensive Jadeja over, Warne managed to trap Tendulkar in front of the stumps, but the Royals weren’t yet home and dry. Two big overs of 11 and 14 off Botha and Patel put Mumbai into the box seat - with just 14 needed off 12 and 4 wickets still intact. Mumbai got even closer when Nayar smashed a massive six over cover to a ball way outside the leg stump. But then he was run out next ball, thanks to sharp work by keeper Ohja, and the game was back on.
Mumbai needed just 4 needed off the final over, but Munaf, who’d been taken for several boundaries in his previous over, rose to the occasion, bowling some immaculate yorkers and taking some valuable wickets. The end came thanks to some smart fielding from Warne running out Malinga and the Royals were home by 2 runs.
One win from either of their last two games would have seen the Royals into the semis – but it wasn’t to be. Back-to-back defeats against the Delhi Daredevils by 14 runs and the bottom-ranked Kolkata Knight Riders by 3 wickets saw the team end the tournament earlier than expected.
It was a disappointing end for Warne's boys, who had won hearts and minds with their underdog 2008 performance, but some talented youngsters had been unearthed (Jadeja, Raut and Khan) and as always, the Rajasthan Royals rarely failed to excite.