The Royals, who finished the 2020 IPL season dead last in the standings are set to be without team MVP Jofra Archer for at least the first four games of the season.
The English fast-bowler underwent surgery on his middle finger earlier this week after a shard of glass was found in his tendon. He also received a second cortisone injection into his troublesome elbow, an injury that is concerning the England coaching staff.
Many tip the Royals to be propping up the table once again in 2021, ourselves included. Archer was their standout performer in a disappointing season taking 20 wickets at an economy rate of just 6.55. He also chipped in with some valuable runs down the order, showing the power-hitting that has too frequently been absent during his England performances.
Rajasthan made a splash in the IPL auction picking up South African Chris Morris for an IPL record fee of 16.25 crore, in the hope of pairing him with Archer to create one of the best 1-2 punches in the IPL. Morris who has often struggled with injuries performed well for Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2020 taking 11 wickets at a 6.63 economy rate and he'll need to step up in 2021 if the Royals hope to compete.
Coach Andrew McDonald tried seven different seamers in a support role to Archer last season, with an underwhelming return of 21 wickets with an economy of over 10 runs an over.
Ankit Rajpoot, Tom Curran and Varun Aaron all disappointed last year with all three dropped ahead of the new season. The Royals do have options for Archers replacement depending on how they operate their overseas roles.
McDonald could opt for a straight swap with Australian Andrew Tye coming into the lineup. The paceman has enjoyed a good season in the Big Bash taking 21 wickets at 7.99 economy rate. The IPL is a step up from the Big Bash, but Tye does offer good experience and he was underused last year, only appearing in one game for the Royals.
Alternatively, they could turn to Mustafizur Rahman, the Bangladeshi seamer who was part of the 2016 Sunrisers team who won the IPL title. He was the first international player to be named as the "emerging player of the tournament" and will be looking to prove he still has the class to perform. He has plenty of experience in T20 cricket having appeared for Bangladesh in 41 matches.
However, if the Royals opt to use their international spots on hitters, it may come down to some unknown commodities. With only four international places in a starting lineup allowed, the Royals may opt to go for Stokes, Buttler, and David Miller along with Chris Morris. If not David Miller, then England's Liam Livingstone who impressed during the international T20 series between England and India.
The Royals have always been known for being a franchise willing to give young Indian talent a chance to shine. We saw that last year with the likes of Kartik Tyagi, Yashasvi Jaiswal and Mahipal Lomror and this year should be no exception. Rajasthan repurchased 18-year-old seamer Akash Singh and invested 1.2 crore in promising 23-year-old Chetan Sakariya, andit's the latter that I'm backing for a breakthrough.
Sakariya plays his domestic cricket for Saurashtra where he enjoyed a superb Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (domestic T20) campaign picking up 12 wickets for an average of 8.16 and an eye-watering economy of 4.90. He took 5-11 against Vidarbha in a blistering show of pace and accuracy. It would be a baptism by fire but perhaps the young Indian seamer can help fill the void left by Archer.
The Royals already faced an uphill struggle in the 2021 season and losing Archer was a huge blow. It does give some young prospects a chance to shine but nobody will be able to completely fill the hole left by the world-cup winner.