IPL 6 playoffs: Rajasthan, it owes much to Dravid

Rajasthan_RoyalsWhen the Rajasthan Royals bought Rahul Dravid in the 2011 IPL player auction, the idea was for Dravid to serve as an example and an inspiration to the young players in the squad.

Today, the Royals need those same qualities for reasons far beyond the field of play. With three RR players – Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan – having been arrested and accused of spot-fixing, the team has had to face its toughest test, and one far beyond the usual hurdles teams face.

It has been a trying time for Rahul Dravid and the Rajasthan Royals.

Dravid said he was “shocked, disappointed, and distressed” but the team would pull together and become stronger as a unit.

The silver lining, if one can call it that, was Rajasthan had already qualified for the playoffs and their last two league games had little riding on them (aside from a potential place in the top two). Given that they lost those two games – both played away from home – the stress seemed to be telling. Even Dravid, whose composure is almost never ruffled, showed flashes of anger when he was given out caught behind against Sunrisers Hyderabad.

There will be no cushion when the Royals take on those same Sunrisers in Delhi tonight. It is win or go home. In some ways, Dravid is the perfect choice for te captain of a team where players have been accused of fixing. His integrity and commitment to cricket are beyond question. Such a leader gives the players someone to rally around and someone who can occupy the moral high ground without question.

Still, it will take all of Dravid’s skills and leadership abilities to keep his team focused on the game. It isn’t just the arrest of the three players, or that the team will have to manage without them (each of them has had a role to play in the team’s success this season), but that there have been more accusations levelled at players on the team through leaks from the police. The constant stream of rumours and leaks would rock even the strongest teams.

Then there are the regular, run-of-the-mill challenges on the field too. Rajasthan have not been a good team on the road, winning just two of their eight games away from the Sawai Mansingh Stadium. They also go into the eliminator on the aforementioned two-game losing streak while the Sunrisers have the confidence that comes from winning two must-win games, including a 23-run defeat of the Royals.

The best teams succeed because everyone pulls together. That’s been one of the strengths of the Chennai Super Kings – a stable core of players who understand their roles led by the same captain over the last six years. A successful team isn’t build simply by stocking talent. The bits and pieces have to fit like a puzzle.

Getting the most out of their bits and pieces has been one of the strengths of the Royals. They have, as Dravid said, functioned as a family. That has what has allowed them to generally exceed expectations. Now the family has been hurt by allegations of infidelity and greed. But they still have a core of good, solid players – Shane Watson is a match-winner, Dravid and Ajinkya Rahane can anchor the innings, Stuart Binny can hit big shots and take wickets, Sanju Samson has shown he can keep his composure in tough situations and Brad Hodge can finish a game.

But the bowling has suffered with the loss of the three accused and the Royals have had to play 41-year-old legspinner Praveen Tambe to balance the side. If, despite all this, the Royals beat the Sunrisers, it will owe much to Dravid and his leadership, and might well be his finest hour yet.

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