For IPL 2012, the Rajasthan Royals team was under new management. An Australian all-time great in the form of Shane Warne had decided to retire – and Rajasthan were in the wonderful position of being able to replace him with another All Time Great, this one an India player who’d graced the international stage for many years, Rahul “The Wall” Dravid.

There was no one better to lead the team. The young players had enormous respect for their new leader. Dravid was regarded throughout the world of sport as an honest individual who’d always strived to play the game in the right way – hard but fair.

The Royals management team had also gone to the player auction well prepared – and reaped the rewards, with purchases including Brad Hodge, Brad Hogg and Kevon Cooper. Outside the auction process, Owais Shah also came on board. The squad looked strong.

It was a shame, though, that Royals Icon Shane Watson was only going to join his team mates half way through the tournament. The Aussie all-rounder was playing for his country in the West Indies, affecting his availability for the IPL once more.

The Royals’ first match was against Kings XI in Jaipur. A new strategy this season was to deploy Indian prospect Ajinkya Rahane as opener – the place in the order many thought was his natural position, and soon ‘Jinks’ got the chance to impress…

Dravid lost the toss and Punjab decided to bowl. It was a decision they would rapidly come to regret. Rajasthan got off to a flyer and Rahul wasn’t out until 77 runs had been posted in just 9.3 overs. Menaria was in next, but lost his wicket without scoring. Hodge then entered the fray and steadied the ship, scoring 21 runs off 16 before losing his wicket with the score on 162 in 17.2 overs. The third wicket partnership between Hodge and Rahane totalled 75 runs in 45 balls. All the way through the innings, young Rahane was doing the bulk of the scoring. He simply oozed class - falling just 2 runs short of what would have been a great century. The Royals finished on 191. It was Rahane’s breakthrough innings – and the rest of the IPL started to take notice of a new star in their ranks.

As Kings XI started their chase, Adam Gilchrist looked in fine nick. The Punjab team raced to 36 in 4 overs. Gilchrist then fell, miscuing a slower ball. From that point on, Punjab kept losing wickets at regular intervals, without ever seriously threatening the required run-rate. In the end the Royals triumphed by 31 runs - and for the second season in a row Rajasthan got off to a winning start.

Next up, the Kolkata Knight Riders at home. Before the tournament began, skipper Rahul identified Ajinkya Rahane, Ashok Menaria and Kevon Cooper as hugely talented players to watch out for. Rahane had already justified his captain’s confidence in his abilities, and in this match the others did their bit too. The Royals lost the toss and were again put in to bat. Rahane was run-out without scoring. Rahul and Shreevat Goswami saw Rajasthan through the power play period with composure, but both went before the 10th over. Menaria and Hodge then delivered excellent knocks, each getting 40s in quick time. Owais Shah finished the innings with a flourish as the Royals set KKR 165 to win.

It was a competitive score, but KKR should have been confident they could chase it down because they had a superb batting line up. The Royals needed a top bowling performance - and duly got it. Rajasthan’s opening attack ran through the KKR top order like a knife through butter. KKR lost their first 3 wickets before even putting 10 runs on the board. Another went in the 5th over and the game was a good as over. Manoj Tiwary gave the chase some respectability, but the Knight Riders fell 22 runs short of the total as ‘Big Kev’ Cooper ran through the lower order, finishing with 3 wickets.

Just like the start of the previous season, Rajasthan had played two, won two. It looked like Dravid, despite not being great at winning tosses, was accomplished when it came to winning IPL matches! Next up, Mumbai away. That night, Mumbai power hitter Pollard was on song, scoring 64 runs off 33 balls, helping propel Mumbai to 197 in their 20.

It was always going to be a hard target to chase and the Royals started poorly as Rahul and Goswami fell to consecutive balls in the second over. Owais Shah came in at number 4. The Englishman put on a good partnership with Rahane and then Menaria. He scored runs in some unorthodox areas, but his adaptability kept Rajasthan within sniffing distance of the required run rate. Shah scored 76 off 42 and it looked like he was taking the Royals to their third victory in three games. However, Malinga deceived him with a Yorker, leaving Rajasthan needing 64 of 6 overs with 6 wickets in hand. Sadly, the Royals middle order folded, and the team eventually lost by 27 runs. Despite the defeat, the omens for a successful campaign were looking good. Everyone in the squad was contributing and there was great team spirit on and off the pitch.

The Royals flew to Kolkata the next day. The pitch there was notorious for being slow and since KKR had bought deceptive spinner Narine for a lot of money, everyone expected it to be even slower. For the first time in this IPL, skipper Dravid won the toss and elected to bat first. All Rajasthan’s batsmen (except Menaria) got decent starts, but none accelerated once set. KKR were set a less than imposing target of 132.

When KKR batted, the Royals bowlers strived to keep things tight – and succeeded. However, despite a valiant effort and the match going to the last over, the Knight Rider batsmen kept their nerve and won the game with 4 balls to spare.

Just like their previous campaign, after four matches Rajasthan had won 2 and lost 2. There was some consolation however in the fact that even in the losses, the Royals had fought hard and at no stage had been poor.

The next match was in Bangalore where the fearsome RCB batting line up of Gayle, Kohli and AB de V lay in wait. However, the Rajasthan battling line up was pretty impressive too...

It was homecoming for Rahul as the captains walked out for the toss, and quite rightly ‘The Wall’ got a standing ovation from his devoted fans in the capacity crowd. He won the toss and elected to bat. It must have been a proud moment for Rahul walking out to open the innings with his protege Rahane - and both started well. In fact, the rookie superseded the elder statesman, providing a masterclass in T20 batting. He didn’t hit the ball all that hard, he just timed it to perfection. The young Indian showed incredible technique and put the notion of the T20 format not suiting old school technical batsmen firmly to rest. Rahane went on to score the century he’d narrowly missed out on in the first match. It took him just 59 balls without a ‘slog’ in sight – he simply caressed the ball to and over the boundary. Owais Shah continued his fine form and supported Rahane with some ferocious hitting towards the end of the innings, scoring 60 off 26. The Royals batsmen set RCB a formidable total of 195 runs to chase.

195 runs would have intimidated some teams batting second - but not KKR with their roster of brilliant batsmen. Rajasthan’s bowlers knew they needed to be at the top of their game and they were. Despite the RCB openers scoring 40 in the first 4 overs, Bangalore got nowhere near their target - and while Rahane won the man of the match award, this match was really won by a fantastic team effort.

The Royals then returned to Jaipur, at home again after a gruelling away schedule. The Chargers were up next, won the toss and decided to bat first. It looked like all the traveling of the previous couple of weeks had caught up with the fatigued Rajasthan attack. The bowlers lacked discipline and were punished as the Chargers set a well above par total of 197 to win.

In reply, the ‘Rah Rahs’, Rahane and Rahul, again got the Royals off to a strong start. The innings was going along at a cracking rate of more than 10 runs an over, when Rahul fell in the 6th. However, the pace didn’t slow down as Menaria and Rahane put on another 50 runs in 30 balls. Unfortunately, Menaria, Rahane and Shah then lost their wickets in quick succession.

Suddenly Rajasthan needed 55 off the last 4 overs. Hodge went on to play a heroic knock, including 4 fours from 4 consecutive Steyn deliveries. When the last overcame, 11 runs were needed. 3 runs came off the first 2 balls and for the third delivery, diminutive Dishant Yagnik faced up to Steyn. He wasn’t the most prolific scorer in domestic cricket, but he was a top wicketkeeper with a reputation for fearlessness. His strength of character became evident in what followed. Straining at the seams, Steyn charged in – but Yagnik stood as tall as he could – and dispatched two consecutive balls to the boundary. He’d won the match for the Royals – and put the seal on another great team performance.

Next up, an away fixture in Chennai. The Super Kings had won the last two IPLs and were the team to beat. However, Rajasthan had won 4 of their first 6 matches and were feeling confident. A win in Chennai would not only strengthen their position in the table, it would make a statement to the rest of the IPL that Rajasthan were truly a team to be reckoned with. Dravid won the toss and elected to bat first on a slow wicket. The innings started well, but as the ball got old it proved difficult to dispatch to the rope. The Royals totalled 146 on the back of another very good innings from Owais Shah. He had been in excellent form throughout the IPL, but would this knock be enough?

In reply, Chennai paced their innings well. Faf Du Plessis scored 73 in just 52 balls - and the home team kept up with the run rate. As the match neared its end, CSK needed 31 runs off 24 balls with 9 wickets in hand. Kevon Cooper then got both Faf and Raina in the 17th over, ending their 61 run partnership. Only 2 runs came off that over and Rajasthan were back in the game. Dhoni and Bravo then scored 21 runs off the next two overs, leaving CSK requiring 8 from the last over.

Skipper Dravid chose all-rounder Stuart Binny to bowl it. Both batsmen had shown amazing composure – refusing to play risky shots at any point during their chase – only going after bad balls. Surprisingly they remained calm in the last over too. 6 runs came off the first 5 balls without any boundary. It was all down to the last ball. 2 runs required. Unfortunately Binny bowled his first bad ball of his set of six, a full toss drifting to the legside and Dhoni flicked it for the two runs needed. Rajasthan had lost another thriller.

Next up, the reverse fixture against Bangalore back home in Jaipur. Bowling first, the Royals conceded a whopping 189 runs in their 20 overs. Dilshan and De Villiers both batted brilliantly. Unlike their previous match, this Royals contest didn’t go to the wire. Other than skipper Rahul’s 58 from 42 deliveries, no other Rajasthan batsman played a significant innings, and the team lost by 46 runs.

Halfway into the tournament, Rajasthan had emerged victorious in 50% of their games and still had a reasonable chance of a play off place, if they could string together some wins. They had to put their two recent losses behind them.

Next up were table toppers Delhi Daredevils. Sehwag won the toss and elected to bat first. Rajasthan made early breakthroughs, getting the important wickets of Jayawardene and Pietersen in the first 3 overs. Sehwag had been in very good form throughout this IPL and he built a partnership with Taylor. The Delhi skipper lost his wicket with the score on 99 in the 14th over, after scoring 63 runs off 39 balls. The Royals bowlers desperately needed to regain some control – and did so, only conceding 33 runs in the next 36 balls. However, the Royals’ last over went for 20 runs, allowing Delhi to post a competitive 152. To make matters worse, Cooper injured himself trying to take a catch on the boundary. He fell awkwardly, twisted his knee and would be ruled out for the rest of the tournament.

In reply, Rajasthan cruised in the first 10 overs to 67 for the loss of no wicket. Their first wicket only fell in the 14th over with the scoreboard on 99 when Rahul was caught on the boundary to a running catch by Agarkar. The Royals were still very much in the driver’s seat - it was their match to lose. The team needed just 15 runs off the last two overs with 9 wickets in hand. It should have been a formality, but in the penultimate over Morkel bowled a blinder and conceded just 3 runs, taking the crucial wicket of Hodge in the process.

Now it was 12 required from the last over. Yadav was chosen to bowl it. His first ball to Ajinkya was a dot ball. Ajinkya looked out of sorts. The next two balls each got 2 singles and Ajinkya was on strike again. He played a beautiful shot over point for 6 as he dumped a wide full toss over the rope with incredible technique. Suddenly the Royals needed 4 from 2 balls. Very achievable…

Ajinkya got a couple from the next ball so the Royals only required a single to take the match to a super over. Two runs would secure the win. Ajinkya had played another magnificent innings, could he take his team over the finish line? Yadav bowled slightly outside off stump and surprisingly Jinks missed it completely. As non-striker Owais Shan tried to run a single, the keeper hit the stumps with a direct throw and Owais was run out.

Rajasthan had lost another close game. They were left ruing a poor last over when they were bowling and poor execution of their skills when batting. This defeat was a bitter pill to swallow. Suddenly the Royals weren’t winning close matches any more – a worrying pattern was emerging.

Rajasthan had lost their last 3 games – a season that had promised so much was slipping away.

The next match was in Jaipur against Delhi. Fortunately, Watson was available for selection, but even he couldn’t prevent a 6 wicket defeat thanks to another masterclass by Sehwag. The Indian legend scored a sparkling 73 runs from 38 balls chasing down a lowly Rajasthan total of 141.
The Royals next game was in Mohali against the Kings XI. With 4 wins and 6 losses in their first ten matches, Rajasthan desperately needed a win. Dravid won the toss and elected to bat first. Ajinkya failed this time around, but Rahul, Watson, Menaria and Hodge all got amongst the runs. Dravid led from the front, top scoring with 46 as Kings XI were set 178 to win. Rajasthan then put in an all-round good bowling performance and finally registered their fifth win, bowling Kings XI out for 134.

Next, the team travelled to Pune for another crucial fixture and triumphed in this game too, thanks in no small part to a Shane Watson rampage. Chasing a meagre 126 he scored a remarkable 90 runs off 51 balls. The Royals were back in business!

2 wins out of their last 4 matches would give Rajasthan a decent chance of reaching the play offs. 3 wins would ensure it. It was like déjà vu from previous seasons. Two of the matches were at home, one of them against the Pune team they’d just thrashed. Hopes were high…

Before Pune though, there was the tough challenge of taking on old rivals CSK away from home. On a slower wicket than ones used previously, Rajasthan batted first and couldn’t really time the ball. The batsmen kept losing wickets at regular intervals and never managed to score quickly – only posting a total of 126. In reply, CSK also struggled with the conditions. At the half way mark, they were only 53 for 2. The Super Kings then lost 3 wickets in the next 6 overs and scored only 27 more runs. Suddenly the pendulum had swung.

CSK required 47 from 4 overs with 5 wickets in hand on a slow wicket, no easy task. But the Royals bowlers loosened their stranglehold. CSK smashed their way to victory in just the next 15 balls. The Royals fans in the stadium couldn’t understand what they had just witnessed.

After fighting their way back into contention, Rajasthan had lost yet another close game, one which should have been won. In previous seasons the Royals had secured a well deserved reputation for winning the nail biters – they were the masters of ‘never say die’ – of ‘finding a way’ to win. That lustrous mantle was now slipping away – like many two pointers that should have been won.

Three matches to go and something of a miracle required to make the semis – a three win streak from a team low in confidence. Despite that, the Royals beat Pune in Jaipur easily. Batting first, Watson and Rahane got amongst the runs and they helped set a target of 171 which Pune got nowhere near, falling 45 runs short.

Now it was two wins from two matches required to reach the play offs. As they flew to Hyderabad to take on the Deccan Chargers, the Royals squad realised they were in the last chance saloon – it was do or die. Perhaps the pressure was too much. Batting first, Rajasthan could only muster a total of 126. The Chargers reached the target comfortably - and the Royals hopes were dashed. In the last match in Jaipur, old rivals Mumbai hammered the final nail into Rajasthan’s tumultuous season, winning by 10 wickets.

A season that had promised so much ended in disappointment, but sparkling displays from the likes of Jinks Rahane. Kevon Cooper, Owais Shah and Brad Hodge – plus the peerless leadership throughout from skipper Rahul Dravid left much to be positive about in the future.


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