Shreyas Gopal, Riyan Parag stand out amid Rajasthan Royals' many misses

Agarkar: Royals have a good squad but never found balance (8:38)

Experts Daniel Vettori and Ajit Agarkar take a look at why Rajasthan Royals couldn't make the playoffs despite having many players with established T20 pedigree (8:38)

Where did they finish?

Seventh, but just one point separated them from Sunrisers Hyderabad, who became the first side to qualify for the playoffs with just 12 points.

What went right?

The captaincy switch. Hours before their ninth fixture, Steven Smith was announced as Royals' new captain, replacing Ajinkya Rahane. Given that between the Cape Town ball-tampering fiasco of 2018 and then, Smith had led a side only twice - Comilla Victorians in Bangladesh Premier League 2019 - there could have been several questions: would he warm up to the job well? Will he be an apprehensive leader? Can he command the same respect? He put these doubts to rest emphatically.

Captaincy allowed him the powers to put himself at No. 3 and dictate the innings. He responded by making two half-centuries in four innings, striking significantly higher at 130 than the 108 in six innings prior to that.

What went wrong?

Ben Stokes' modest season hit them hard. Neither could he provide the lower-order batting muscle or timely wickets. His athletic presence in the field and a stunner at backward point, flinging himself to his left to cover the trajectory of the ball that kept going away from him, was the only highlight, but was no consolation. When he left, his replacement in the XI, Ashton Turner, cobbled up three successive first-ball ducks. One could not help but feel sorry for him.

Key numbers

  • Jos Buttler featured in just eight games but made 24% of Royals' bat-runs during his stay, at a strike rate of 151.71.

  • Royals used 11 players in the top order, the joint-second most among all sides after Sunrisers.

Star performers

Shreyas Gopal exhibited guile, the ability to control the Powerplays as well as middle overs with his legspin and mix them well with his deceptive googlies. His lower-order batting too proved effective at times, like his unbeaten 13 off seven balls that helped Royals complete a steep chase against Mumbai Indians. The highlight, of course, was his dismissals of Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers in both home and away games. He topped it off with a hat-trick in front of his home crowd at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, the 20 wickets in 14 games was his reward for consistency.

Riyan Parag, all of 17, couldn't have announced himself better. The youngest IPL half-centurion brought the Royals the energy they needed after an insipid start. He wasn't afraid to ramp Jasprit Bumrah, back away and carve Lasith Malinga, hoick Imran Tahir and he made it look ridiculously cool, too. His self-confidence and calm demeanour at the crease in arresting a collapse to carve out a fighting half-century in the final fixture on a Feroz Shah Kotla turner resonated maturity. With the ball, he was street smart - the carrom balls, googlies and cutters were all on display.

In these two players, Royals have a template for building a strong Indian core, who along with England's Jofra Archer could become the fulcrum of the team going forward. Like Gopal and Parag, Archer was clinical in his execution, particularly at the death. His "boring methods" to yorkers made him a potent force as his lower-order finishing, as he showed before signing off from the tournament, was a peek into his - yes, that new famous phrase - "three-dimensional abilities".

What needs immediate fix?

Their Indian fast bowling stock. Jaydev Unadkat, their most expensive buy at the auction, had a poor season for the second year running. His ten wickets in 11 games came at an average of 39.80 and economy of 10.66. Dhawal Kulkarni fared no better, picking all of six wickets in 10 games at 55.83 and economy of 9.57. Their over-reliance on cutters and lack of pace on flat tracks made them utterly predictable. In addition, there was no clarity of roles for Varun Aaron and Stuart Binny.