ABU DHABI: Rajasthan Royals fought both on and off the field last year, but the team would not like to think about its controversial past and focus on cricket alone in the seventh season of the Indian Premier League (IPL), which the Rahul Dravid-mentored franchise will begin against a strong Sunrisers Hyderabad outfit on Friday in Abu Dhabi. Last year, despite being knee-deep in spot-fixing controversy, which led to the arrest of S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan, Rajasthan showed much resolve to finish third on the points table.
This year, though, the ever-enterprising Rajasthan won't have Dravid on the field guiding them, but the cricket legend will be there as a mentor in the dugout, ensuring to get the best out of his players. Shane Watson has replaced Dravid as captain. He will lead a squad that is considered to be the dark horse for the title, but that's something Rajasthan know how to deal with since being the surprise winners of the inaugural edition in 2008 under Shane Warne.
RR once again didn't focus on big names at the auction after retaining Watson, Ajinkya Rahane, Stuart Binny, Sanju Samson and James Faulkner. They went for utility players and bagged the likes of Steven Smith, Tim Southee and Rajat Bhatia. The opposition camp of Hyderabad looks better on paper with Shikhar Dhawan leading the batting front and Dale Steyn in charge of bowling. And they won't forget their defeat at the hands of Rajasthan in the Eliminator during their IPL debut last year, in which they finished an impressive fourth.
Dhawan will have the option of partnering either Aaron Finch, David Warner or Brendan Taylor, who the franchise snapped up at the auction, while Darren Sammy will lead the pack of allrounders that includes Irfan Pathan and Moises Henriques. Ricky Bhui and Manpreet Juneja are two other promising names that can emerge as the surprise package for SRH. Steyn will have the experienced Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the bowling line-up, with a rejuvenated Amit Mishra leading the spin attack along with Karan Sharma and Parveez Rasool. Every team wants to begin a tournament on a winning note, and SRH and RR won't be thinking any differently on Friday.
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