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For IPL 2013, Rahul Dravid took charge of a squad that included a strong set of Australian internationals headed by the country’s vice-captain Shane Watson. Hopes were high that “Watto” would repeat his heroics from IPL 2008 which were instrumental in Rajasthan winning the trophy.

Watson was joined by compatriot Brad Hodge who had been in superb form during the recent Big Bash and Bangladesh Premier League tournaments. Another Brad, Brad Hogg also joined the squad. At 42 years old, the left arm Chinaman exponent had returned to cricket after a brief spell of retirement. Shaun Tait came back to spearhead the attack. Aside from Lasith Malinga, the 30 year old was arguably the best death bowler in T20 cricket.

Joining the returning Aussies was new signing James Faulkner, who’d been snapped up in the auction for $400,000. The 22 year old had just started to break into the national limited overs sides and although primarily a bowler, Faulkner could make useful runs down the order.
The West Indies also provided three overseas players, in the shape of Samuel Badree, Kevon Cooper and another new acquisition, Fidel Edwards. Edwards and Tait had the potential to form one of the most formidable opening attacks in the competition.

Hopes were high that Indian stars Rahul Dravid and Ajinkya Rahane, along with some of the young rookies in the squad, would combine with all this overseas talent to help the Royals achieve a successful campaign.

As in their triumphant inaugural IPL, Rajasthan Royals’ first opponents were the Delhi Daredevils. Batting first, the Royals posted a par score of 165, losing seven wickets in the process. Top scorer, yet again leading from the front, was skipper Dravid with a patient 65 runs. Worthwhile contributions from Stuart Binny (40) and Jinks Rahane (28) proved crucial as there was a late order collapse from 142 for 2 to 164 for 7.

There was little doubt that the bowlers would have to be on their mettle to restrict the formidable Daredevils batting line up to less than the total. Delhi opener Warner was very much on song – hitting 77 from 56 balls, but then Brad Hodge ran him out and the balance of the match swung in the Royals favour. Three wickets from Kevon Cooper at crucial moments pegged the Daredevils back – and in the end they could only muster 160 runs in their 20 overs, falling five runs short. Unlike in 2008, the Royals had emerged victorious in their first fixture.

Rajasthan’s next match was against Kolkata Knight Riders in the Royals’ fortress stadium in Jaipur. KKR skipper Gambhir won the toss and decided to chase, taking into account that the dew could play a factor later in the evening. The early loss of Shane Watson meant Rahane and Dravid had to work on a consolidation strategy. The duo combined to score 35 solid runs before Dravid played over a straight ball from Bhatia. Binny then got going with a few fours but subsequently lost his wicket and it was down to Rahane and Hodge to help the Royals post a reasonable total. Jinks went for a conventional approach – hitting a six over extra cover that would delight any cricket lover. However, he and Cooper fell to Narine in the same over and the Royals were in trouble at 101 for 5 with four overs to go.

Luckily Hodge came to the rescue, ably accompanied by keeper Dishant Yagnik who scored an important and rapid 16. Hodge struck vital blows, illustrating why he’s the leading run scorer in the T20 format. His innings helped pave the way to a competitive target of 145.
Going into this match, Rahul Dravid decided to select five quick bowlers and not a single spinner – and it proved to be a masterstroke. He’d read the pitch to perfection and the pace bowlers responded brilliantly. The Royals played as a team and delivered, winning by 19 runs. They had two wins from their opening two fixtures.

For their third match, the Royals were on their travels again, as they faced Pune Warriors in their Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium. Rajasthan old boy Aaron Finch proved to be their nemesis that day, with a man of the match performance helping Pune to a seven wicket victory. The Royals total of 145 for the second match running didn’t prove enough this time, despite valiant knocks from Dravid and Rahane. There was also a notable bowling performance from James Faulkner with 2 for 17.

In their next fixture, against Kings XI Punjab, the Royals bowled first, and did so brilliantly in restricting their opponents to 124 all out. Four bowlers chipped in with two wickets each. Those two wicket hauls along with two run outs meant the Punjab innings never got going. However, it wasn’t plain sailing for the Rajasthan batsmen either. They didn’t knock off the required runs until the last over for the loss of four wickets. The top scorers were the openers Watson and Rahane who both scored thirties.

Next up, old rivals Mumbai Indians. Rajasthan batted first and took the Mumbai bowling attack to the cleaners, amassing an imposing total of 179 for the loss of just three wickets. Rahane top scored with 68 not out and there were valuable 30’s from Watson and Yagnik. Some lusty blows from Brad Hodge at the end also helped the Royals cause. In reply, Mumbai never looked in the hunt, falling a whopping 87 runs short, with Faulkner securing 3 wickets for a miserly 16 runs – game over.

The Royals had started IPL 2013 well – their combination of overseas stars and Indian talent coming up trumps.

Unfortunately their next fixture was against RCB in Bangalore, never a happy hunting ground – and batting first, the Royals subsided to 117 all out, only Dravid and Binny getting into the 30’s. RCB knocked the runs off in their 17th over and the Royals winning run was at an end. They also lost their next match, in Chennai against the Super Kings, by 5 wickets, and old concerns about losing streaks always following winning streaks for Rajasthan started to emerge…

The Royals next fixture was against Sunrisers Hyderabad – and the boys were back on form. Set to chase 144, Rajasthan knew that seeing off the new ball would prove crucial. Despite Dale Steyn dismissing Rahane cheaply, Dravid and Watson saw the team through choppy waters and shared a 74 run stand for the second wicket. With Dravid’s departure, Watson really opened up and smashed the Hyderabad bowlers to all parts of the ground. He was unlucky to miss out on a century, scoring 98 not out, as Rajasthan emerged victorious by eight wickets.

Next up for the Royals was the return fixture against RCB at home – and it proved to be a classic. Batting first, RCB raced to a total of 171 for 6 in their allotted 20 overs. Luckily for the Royals though, Kohli and Gayle failed to convert their 30’s into big scores – so they were still in with a chance. Watson was the pick of the Royals bowlers, capturing three wickets for just 22 runs from his four overs. The RCB total was challenging – quite fitting for the Royal Challengers – but it wasn’t unattainable, and the Royals batting line up realised this was their game to win if they were on song.

Rahane fell early – but the rest of the top 5 all contributed to the cause. Dravid (22) Samson (63) Watson (41) and Hodge (32) all batted superbly to get Rajasthan to the brink of victory – but the last over proved to be a nail biter with Binny and Shah at the crease. When the Englishman was run out third ball of the over, doubts about Rajasthan’s ability to win close matches these days started to recur, but then Faulkner came in and he and Binny calmly saw the Royals home with one ball to spare. Another win for the Royals saw the team well placed in the table and starting to feel confident again. But could they keep it up?

The Royals were now back on the road, to the magnificent Eden Gardens stadium in Kolkata. Skipper Dravid won and chose to bat first. It was a sluggish pitch that he felt was only going to get harder to bat on. Rahane fell early to mystery spinner Senanayake who had him stumped for just 6. Faulkner was pushed up the batting order as a pinch hitter, but the gamble failed and the Royals’ start faltered. Their star from the last game, Sanju Samson, came in next and seemed comfortable against Kolkata’s attack. Carrying on from where he left off against RCB, he hit Abdulla into the stands. Watson at the other end also collected a few boundaries and the Royals looked well set at the half way mark with 71 for 2… but then the game changed. Narine totally baffled Watson for four deliveries before getting him on the fifth. Wickets started to tumble and runs dried up. Samson soon fell and overs 18 and 19 produced only 4 runs apiece. Dravid surprisingly came into bat at the lowly position of number 8 and started with a 4 but the Royals ended at 132; 20 runs short of a par total.

A rare highlight for Rajasthan in the KKR innings was the surprise stumping of Gambhir off Watson. Yagnik’s reflexes behind the stumps were incredible. However, Bisla and Kallis kept up the momentum for KKR and Bisla’s demise only served to bring in Royals old boy Yusuf Pathan. Yusuf seized the initiative with three sixes and three fours, helping his team reach their target with nearly three overs to spare. He ended unbeaten on 49 and Kallis played a supporting role with 33 not out.

Following this disappointment, the Royals travelled back home to take on Pune, hoping for a win to cement themselves in the top four.

In a tournament that had largely seen low scoring encounters; when Rajasthan took on the Warriors at home, the Jaipur crowd enjoyed a run-fest with 360 runs scored in the match. Batting second, the Royals were set 179 to win. They needed their star batsmen to be on song – and the good news was that Ajinkya Rahane was back in form, scoring a captivating 67 off 48. Skipper Dravid also led from the front with a sparkling fifty. But there was still more to do – it was down to Brad Hodge, Stuart Binny and the rest of the crew to score 43 runs from the last 24 balls…

Rahul Sharma turned out to be a bad bowling choice from Pune skipper Finch as Stuart Binny comfortably took him for runs. A four and six saw 14 scored from the Sharma over, which left the Royals needing 29 runs from the last three sets of six. Hodge fell to the first ball from the next Parnell over, but that only brought the in-form Sanju Samson to the crease. First ball up and Samson hit Parnell for a superb cover-drive through a packed off-side field. Then he followed it with another four through a deliberate thick outside edge – so 11 runs were needed off the last over.

Stuart Binny didn’t want to leave it too late and first ball up produced a super straight drive off Kumar for six. That blow improved ‘the ask’ to 5 runs off 5 deliveries – a much more straightforward proposition. Then Samson fell off the second ball of the over, trying to pull Parnell over the boundary. James Faulkner came in and scored 3 runs from the 2 deliveries he faced to level the scores and most importantly, hand over the strike to Binny. With the field up, Binny drove Parnell through midwicket for four, seeing the Royals home with one ball to spare. Binny had played another blinder (32 from 13) and the Royals were starting to sniff the play offs…

Confidence was now flourishing within the Rajasthan squad – the Royals were starting to win the last over nerve janglers again, and that is a good sign for a team wanting to go places. They could also dominate the opposition when they were in the right mood – and that is exactly what happened in the next match, against the Delhi Daredevils. In their innings, the Daredevils could only muster 154 for 9, a below par total on a fantastic Jaipur batting track. In reply the ‘Rah Rah’ team of Rahane and Rahul took the Delhi attack apart, with a century opening stand. The duo picked up where they left off against Pune with their on and off drives quite literally driving the bowlers to distraction – along with some deft placements to keep the score ticking along nicely.

Dravid brought up yet another IPL half century with an edge off Morkel, but then he holed out to Agarkar off Kaul. With 42 required from 36, it was the ideal scenario for Shane Watson to come in and finish off the task. Rahane duly brought up his second successive fifty and then the two tore Morkel apart with two sixes to get the Royals home. They had secured a comfortable 9 wicket win with 13 balls to spare. Rahane was awarded another man of the match trophy and the Royals leapt to the number 2 spot in the league standings. The pundits had discounted the chances of the Royals at the start of the competition – now they were having to rethink their predictions…

Next Rajasthan were back on their travels – facing the Kings XI in Mohali. Punjab batted first and got off to a flyer with both Gilchrist and Marsh in the runs. Gilchrist scored 42 and Marsh 77 batting at 2 and 3 as they looked set to post a mammoth total. However, shortly after reaching their 100 partnership, both batsmen fell, and the Kings XI innings lost its momentum. Kevon Cooper was back on song securing three wickets for 23 runs, including those of both dangermen. The final total of 145 was significantly less than expected at the half way stage. The Royals realised they could bag another two points if they batted well.

Dravid and Rahane opened the batting as usual – but for once the skipper didn’t deliver, succumbing for just 4 runs. However, Jinks took on the baton of responsibility like the potential future Royals captain he is and caressed his way to 59 not out. Shane Watson was more ferocious in his hitting, but still provided a useful 31. When ‘Watto’ was bowled by Chawla with the score on 71 at the halfway stage, there was a glimmer of hope for the hosts, but it was rapidly extinguished by another excellent knock from Samson, who stroked his way to a rapid 47 not out, helping to see the Royals home in comfort. An 8 wicket victory with an over to spare was a clear calling card to the other teams that it was time to sit up and take notice of this IPL edition’s Royals outfit.

Next up for Rajasthan, a home fixture against Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings. The Royals bowled first, opening up with the pace of IPL debutant Vikramjeet Malik. He bowled a good first over, conceding just three runs. James Faulkner partnered him and kept it tight from the other end. Watson then joined the fray first change and bowled well, but a few streaky fours later the visitors were 39 for 0.

Hussey and Vijay notched another half century stand as they continued steady progress without undue risks to take the score to 75 for 0 at the half way mark. The runs seemed to be coming easily for Chennai and they looked set for a match winning total.

Stuart Binny has been a man with the golden arm in the Indian domestic circuit in 2013 and responded to Dravid’s beckoning by cleaning up Hussey. ‘Super Kevon’ Cooper then joined the party by dismissing Raina and Dhoni in the same over. It took some brilliant captaincy from Dravid to secure Dhoni’s prized wicket though, posting a wide slip who duly took the catch to dismiss him. Suddenly there was a spring in the Royals’ stride. The Rajasthan bowlers started to tighten their stranglehold on the CSK batsmen and Jadeja just couldn’t get the ball away. Vijay ran himself out because he was so desperate to get on strike.

Dwayne Bravo came in and added some late impetus to the CSK innings. Bravo’s counter attack included four boundaries to spoil the bowling figures for Cooper and Faulkner, who were entrusted with the task of bowling the penultimate and final overs. 25 came from those two overs to take CSK to 141.The Royals needed to surpass that total to maintain their unbeaten record at home during this IPL…

The Royals opened with their stalwart pair of Ajinkya Rahane and Rahul Dravid. The pitch seemed to be getting harder to bat on as the game progressed, Mohit Sharma and Jason Holder both putting the Royals openers in discomfort. The CSK seamers got the ball to bounce and seam off the pitch and that led to the early wicket of the in-form Rahane. The scoring was slow and Faulkner came in to try to boost the rate, but fell immediately trying to blast Holder over the ropes. Sanju Samson then came and failed for the first time in Royals colours, leaving the Royals in a desperate situation – 19 for 3 at the end of 5.

The reassuring muscular figure of Shane Watson then entered the fray, but the Aussie titan also struggled against the moving ball. There was no respite for Rajasthan as Sharma and Morris also came on and bowled well, but then Bravo got hit for a 6 in the fifth over and the innings pendulum suddenly shifted. ‘Watto’ launched a ferocious attack, blasting six sixes and the same number of fours on his way to 70 off just 34 balls. Stuart Binny also caused mayhem, scoring 41 in just 23 balls and seeing the team home by five wickets with 17 deliveries to spare. The Royals were 8 wins from 8 fixtures at home – Jaipur was their fortress once more!

With ten wins overall and twenty points in the bag, the Royals were pretty much nailed on for the play offs, the only question was where in the table they would end up when the round robin stage was completed. The last two fixtures were against Mumbai Indians and Sunrisers Hyderabad and Rajasthan, surprising bearing in mind they were in such fine form, lost both and finished third in the table.

The bronze position was an improvement on their last few IPL campaigns though, and they looked forward to their first eliminator match since 2008 – against Sunrisers Hyderabad in Delhi.

The sudden death first semi turned out to be a low scoring classic…

Batting first, Sunrisers only totalled 132 for 7, thanks to some excellent bowling and fielding from the Royals. Malik, Faulkner and Watson all kept it tight, and despite thirties from Dhawah and White, the Sunrisers batsmen just couldn’t get them away. However, low totals in must win matches can prove tricky to attain, and so it proved here. Dravid, Rahane and Watson all fell despite seeming well set, and when Binny and Yagnik were both bowled by Sammy in rapid succession, the Royals were rocking at 57 for 5.

At times like these experienced heads are required, and that’s exactly what the Royals had in the form of Australian ex international Brad Hodge. To the relief of Rajasthan fans all over the world, he steered his team home with a perfectly paced fifty. Samson and Faulkner supported the Aussie, as the 2008 IPL winners reached their target in the last over. The Royals 2013 campaign was still alive – they were into the second semi-final.

Their opponents in the Royals’ biggest match for five years were arch rivals Mumbai Indians. Batting first, Rajasthan’s dependable opening partnership of Rahul and Rahane were back on song, putting on a partnership of 44 for the first wicket. Rahane scored a graceful 21 before being bowled by Singh. Dravid fell to the same bowler on 43 and the Royals were looking a bit rocky on 87 for 4 because Watson and Samson had both been dismissed cheaply. Stuart Binny and Brad Hodge steadied the ship, scoring 27 and 19 not out respectively, but it was Dishant Yagnik lower down the order who really caught the eye, with a magnificent knock of 31 from 17 balls including 5 fours. With a final total of 165, the Royals attack had something to bowl at, but would it be enough?

The Mumbai openers were Dwayne Smith and Aditya Tare, and they tore into the Rajasthan attack. Smith blasted his way to 62 from 44 balls – and Tare reached 35 in no time. The Royals were in trouble, but kept on fighting. West Indian Kevon Cooper accounted for Tare and Karthick, and the Rajasthan attack started to peg the Mumbai Indians batsmen back. Smith fell to Binny and the game was back in the balance. Sharma, Pollard and Raduyu soon perished as the pressure mounted. In the 15th over, Mumbai were 108 for 6 – suddenly Rajasthan were favourites to make the final. Brad Hodge had the chance to make it seven wickets down but spilled a skier and the odds swung back in Mumbai’s favour…

Mumbai required 8 runs from the last over. It was a real nail biter, but with one ball to go, the Indians seventh wicket pair of Singh and Dhawan saw their team home.

The Royals IPL 2013 campaign had finally ended with a heart-breaking defeat, but they could leave the tournament with their heads held high. They had justifiably re-established their reputation for giving youngsters a chance, for showcasing the talents of some of the finest international players on the planet, for never being a dull team to watch, and they’d qualified for the Champions League. The Rajasthan Royals were well and truly back!

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