Rajasthan Royals have been one of the most improved teams in the Indian Premier League in the last couple of years and a good outing at the mega-auction helped them put together a strong core unit of players.
Sanju Samson led the very formidable unit to the final in the 2022 edition and the franchise has now set sights on their second IPL title. In an exclusive conversation with News18 Cricketnext, RR CEO Jake Lush McCrum talks about captain Sanju, the youngsters in the squad, the Sanga effect and the role of Red Bull in their scouting and player development activities.
Ever since you have taken over CEO, there seems to be a new vision in place – vision youth. You continue to back youngsters and also appointed a young captain.
I don’t think we have changed our vision. Our vision has always been to win. What we have been able to do with the big auction is to secure a really strong Indian core which we were missing from the 2018-2021 period. And some of that Indian core is of the older age like Yuzi and Ashwin who have incredible experience and quality and match-winning capabilities. I think it’s always a balance… we have amazing youngsters like Riyan Parag and Yashaswi Jaiswal and Devdutt Padikkal and many more. We have got some amazing experience players like the two I mentioned, like Jos Buttler, like Trent Boult.
I think it’s all about balance. You want that youth energy, rawness combined with that experience. And what’s amazing is that some of our young players have lot of experience. The amount of games Devdutt (Padikkal) has played, Sanju is in between the two – 27-28 years old – and has played over a 100 IPL matches so that’s incredible experience. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the vision has changed but I would say that mentality has changed. And when you look ahead to the season, we are here to lift the title. When we were coming back in 2018-19, it was about the playoffs whereas now it’s about lifting that title.
Was there a temptation to look beyond Sanju when it came to captaincy? Did the other big names around the circuit tempt you?
Sanju was always our guy. I would say he is a big name. Sanju, yes he might have been younger than some individuals but as I said, huge amount of IPL experience, huge amount of experience with Rajasthan Royals. He lived, breathed the brand and everything about the franchise. He is so passionate about it which is so important. What I love about Sanju is his openness to learn and the amount he has developed over the last couple of years has been amazing. He will keep getting better and better. He has taken us to a final in his second year as captain which is monumental and the way he manages players, the way he works and motivates them behind the scenes. He may not be the loudest individual on the field but all the work he does off it, which isn’t seen by many, is one of the big reasons why we have been so successful. He has worked very well with Sanga (Kumar Sangakkara) in creating that winning culture and look what’s happened in the last season.
How crucial was the role of someone like Sanga?
Look I think continuity is very valuable within the franchise. From the period of 2018 to 2021, when Sanga came in, we had a fair few changes. So continuity in leadership – both captain and coach – helps be successful. Sangakkara is a great leader, and thinker, he is a good strategist. What’s great about him is his openness to new things and new elements. For eg, we are very data driven as a franchise. I think we have some of the best data analytics in the league and from what he has come from in terms of being gut-based, he has seen the benefits of data in terms of team selection, in terms of the auction and being sort of data-informed has been very powerful for him. Of course, data can’t tell you everything but being able to optimise those inputs to get the best output is something he has been very open to.
That combination of him and Sanju has gone really well. They both have got different strengths and they bounce well off each other. Sanga is literally speaking to me every day during the off-season about different elements of the franchise so he is super engaged which is amazing and really excited to build towards lifting the trophy this year.
You have continued to back Riyan Parag and he is undergoing a dream season with the bat in domestic competitions. Happy for him?
Look we know how good he is and how good he can be. The game he won for us last season against RCB was an incredible innings. He is playing the most difficult role in the side as a young player and there is a lot of pressure. The way he has dealt with that, the way he has dealt with all elements of playing that role – whether it’s social media or otherwise – I think has been very impressive. He is getting better and better and he is what 21 years old, he has got unbelievable power, great skill and so we are really excited to see what he can do this season. In Domestic he has been fantastic. It’s a massive step up hitting centuries to win games for Assam, he has taken Assam to the knockouts which is fantastic. And he is smacking around in Ranji Trophy like it’s a white ball game.
So I think it’s going to be great fun for the fans. For him, as a personality, he is an entertainer. He has a lot of fun on the field. He is a great individual off it as well. You think about franchise cricket and some players move from franchise to franchise and may not be as deeply invested in the franchise but he is someone who cares so much about the Royals which comes through everything he does. It’s great to see him succeeding. I just know how good he can be, which is really exciting. And we got him on when he was just 17 so his first match was batting with Dhoni behind him. What a moment! And then he sort of launched on from there. Red Bull, one of our partners, have actually taken him on board as a brand ambassador and I think that has helped in his development as well. Putting him in different situations, challenging him in different ways and continuing that development. So I think that has been really helpful.
Ashwin and Chahal were possibly your biggest signings yet. You reckon you got the two cheap?
We were very happy to get both of them. There weren’t many scenarios where we saw ourselves securing both. That was really significant. Yuzi is not just an entertainer, he is a wicket-taker, he is an energy within the group, the glue which brings everyone together. And, Ash… he is a thinker, such a smart player. He is always challenging, and always thinking differently. They work so well together and so much pressure from both sides when batsmen are out there. It was huge to get both of them. It’s a phase – the middle phase – where batters are thinking how am I going to get through them. You have Boult and Prasidh bowling so well in the powerplay. I think the combination of our bowlers worked really well together and we are delighted to get both of them as we did.
What kind of role does a brand like Red Bull play with RR? With regards to player scouting, development…
Whenever we partner with a brand, we want to have deep synergies with them. And Red Bull gives people wings and we give players a platform to perform, and we have been one of the leading franchises in taking players from nothing and launching them on Indian and international stage. And Riyan and Jaiswal are examples of that recently. Red Bull, with Rajasthan Royals, have got the Red Bull Speedster where we work together to scout fast bowlers. Those fast bowlers then come to our trials. Some of them become our net bowlers, we bid on some in the recent auctions and we are hoping it becomes a funnel in years to come for talent to come through. You have got Red Bull Campus Cricket which goes to 10,000 colleges across the country. Again, great opportunity to scout talent, great opportunity to build fan engagement for us as a franchise and bringing those players closer to our brand. And any talent spotted comes to our trials and can be net bowlers as well during the IPL season which is again amazing development opportunity for them. I visited the Red Bull High Performance Centre in Austria and it was amazing. We have some of our players who visit there. When he was with us, Ben Stokes visited it. Riyan Parag is going there soon and we are going to work with that athletes performance center to really optimise how we look at progression of our player development in the off season. And that might also be the mental performance side of it. One of their leading individual there is supporting our team in India to ensure we are at the forefront of progression in mental high performance to help us perform during a season so there are many aspects Red Bull supports us on.
The jersey reveals have been really quirky too.
I think we have had few jersey reveals which have been special. The one, in the year just gone, was with a motorbike rider going through Rajasthan and then ending at top of the stadium and then jumping off it which was mad and people asked me “did you fake it” or put some cameras on to show he was jumping off. I said No. I am not sure whether his wife wanted to know until after it was done because it was quite a dangerous one. But he had an amazing time doing it, content capture was awesome and to have Sanju and Yuzi there watching made it even more significant. We are talking about some really exciting ideas for the season ahead and we have already had someone jumping off the plane and dropping in the COVID bubble so there are so many things we are thinking of doing. So Red Bull is just not about developing players, there is so much on the content side where they are fantastic. So excited what we can create next.
IPL most likely returns to home and away format this year. Excited to return to your fortress Jaipur?
Look we are so excited to be back in Rajasthan and back playing home and away venues. We have had few years now where it’s been just one location. Whether it’s Mumbai or Dubai or UAE. Not only for ourselves for activating our fan base but ten teams across India. The amount of marketing spend that goes on to activate it. We have got two new audiences with two new teams. You know the reach of the league, with 800 million people watching, it can’t get any bigger. It can get even more significant with the amount of activation going on. I think for the players coming across, experiencing all of India during these two and a half months of season is such a benefit.
In two years, players might forget about going to Hyderabad and having a biryani, going to Kolkata and seeing the architecture, going to Mumbai and staying in a Taj Palace. All of these things make the experience another level for players and people who have come from villages in different parts of India might not have experienced this. Rajasthan fans have been very patient over the last couple of years, waiting for us to come back. I have been to Rajasthan four times in the last six weeks and every time I get there, the buzz is so strong for us to come back. I can’t wait to be playing there, to hear the roar of the crowd, I can’t wait to win matches.
Target if any for the upcoming season?
No.1. Got to lift the title.
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