|Virat Kohli will be determined to win the IPL this season|
It wouldn’t be unfair of any of us to claim that Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) have been the greatest underachievers in seven previous seasons in the Indian Premier League.
The Vijay Mallya-owned franchise has always possessed some of the star-studded names – Kevin Pietersen, Dale Steyn, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Yuvraj Singh, to name a few – in world cricket, but have yet to win the prestigious IPL title.
They, however, have managed to reach the finals of the world’s greatest T20 competition on two occasions, losing to the Deccan Chargers (now the Sunrisers Hyderabad) in 2009 and Chennai Super Kings in 2011.
In five other seasons, RCB made it to the last four once, while bowing out of the tournament in the league phase itself on four other occasions.
They haven’t played to potential in most of the past seven IPL editions, but will the 8th edition of IPL be Royal Challengers’?
8th edition of the IPL
The Royal Challengers have not made many changes to their squad from the one they had last season.
Dinesh Karthik, bought from Delhi Daredevils (DD) for Rs. 10,50,00,000, has been the franchise’ major purchase this season.
The likes of Darren Sammy, Adam Milne, David Wiese, Sean Abbott, Sarfaraz Khan, Subramaniam Badrinath, Jalaj Saxena and Shishir Bhavane have also been bought with the hope of further reinforcing the squad.
Virat Kohli, for the persona he has, will be rather determined to bring the very best of the squad he has at his disposal and win what would be his first major honor as an international skipper.
A quick review of what RCB have done so far in the tournament
The Royal Challengers came racing out of the blocks in their very first game of this IPL season, making a statement of intent with a comprehensive victory over the defending champions, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), on their own den.
Having been asked to bat first after losing the toss, Gautam Gambhir and co. put on a massive 177/6 in their allotted 20 overs.
The visitors, though, made a mockery of such a massive run chase, getting the job done with six balls to spare. Chris Gayle scored a 56-ball 96 to singlehandedly guide his side to a 4-wicket victory.
However, after that emphatic victory to begin their IPL campaign, the Challengers seemed to lose their way in the next three fixtures, two of which were against established and heavyweight franchises in the Mumbai Indians (MI) and Chennai Super Kings (CSK).
Even more obtrusively, all three of those games, including the one against the Sunrisers, were played on the cauldron of Chinnaswamy Stadium, but the home side went onto lose all three fixtures, and comprehensively, too.
Yuzvendra Chahal’s wickets, David Wiese’s all-round performances and Kohli’s consistency with the bat, were the solitary positives to come out of those hat-trick of defeats that prompted us to think RCB may be no different to their previous three IPL seasons in which they failed to make it to the playoffs.
After the home defeat to the Super Kings, the Royal Challengers had the major proposition of facing Rajasthan Royals (RR) – who were playing a sublime brand of cricket and had lost just one of their first six fixtures – at the Motera.
With Mitchell Starc clicking into gear in his second game after coming to India, RCB’s bowling attack blew away the Royals’ batting lineup that managed to put up a paltry 130 on the board. The Challengers, with Kohli anchoring the innings with a 46-ball 62 and AB de Villiers scoring a breezy 47 off 34 deliveries, romped to a 9-wicket victory with 23 balls to spare.
Kohli’s men followed the rout of Royals with the decimation of Daredevils at the Feroz Shah Kotla. Having been asked to bat after losing the toss, the Daredevils could muster a mere 95 on the board, with Starc once again picking up a 3-for and Wiese coming good with the ball and picking up two wickets.
Kohli and Gayle completed the formalities in 10.3 overs, without losing a wicket. Will such an imperious victory set the Challengers on their way into the playoffs after three barren years? Read on…
Team combination and strengths
Kohli, in the aftermath of the victory over DD, said that particular playing XI gives them a better balance, and alluded to maybe persisting with the same combination in the coming games too.
Kohli himself looks to have made his mind to open the batting for his side, playing the anchor role and letting the more explosive batsmen – Gayle and de Villiers – to play around him.
India’s No.3 has batted immaculately while opening the innings in the last two games, remaining unbeaten on both the occasions and seeing his team through to victory.
Though you could say that Kohli opening the innings makes RCB’s middle order a tad brittle, the Delhi batsman is more than capable of holding the innings together. Also, he hasn’t taken a whole lot of risks, which has also been because of the moderate and low totals Challengers have been set recently, on occasions when he has opened the batting.
Gayle and de Villiers have always been a fearsome batting combo in the IPL circuit and, as long as one of them scores big runs, RCB will pose a major threat to most IPL outfits.
Kohli, Gayle and de Villiers are the batting mainstays as far as the Challengers are concerned. If Gayle and Kohli continue opening the innings for their side, de Villiers will have to shoulder the responsibility of the middle order that, barring Karthik and Rilee Rossouw, if the South African gets an outing, doesn’t have a marquee batsman to contend with for the opposition. This scenario of RCB’s is akin to Sunrisers’ who have a very weak middle order and depend heavily on Shikhar Dhawan and David Warner to make the majority of the runs.
The bowling combination has a good look to it since Starc has come over from Australia. The left-arm quickie has picked up 7 wickets in the three games he has played so far, spearheading and adding more potency to the RCB attack.
Varun Aaron bowled well in RCB’s last game against the Daredevils, but he has been expensive and inconsistent and that will have to change soon.
Harshal Patel, the Haryana fast bowler, has been disciplined in his bowling efforts, keeping the opposition batsmen quiet and picking up 5 wickets in his 5 outings so far in the tournament.
Wiese, with his medium-fast stuff and ability to bowl according to the playing surface, is another crucial component of the Challengers’ bowling attack.
The spinners: Chahal, in particular, has bowled really well throughout the tournament, picking up 10 wickets in the 5 games he has played in so far; Iqbal Abdulla, the slow left-arm spinner from Mumbai, has done reasonably well in the 4 games he has played in.
Such a lineup gives the Royal Challengers real hope going into their next seven games of the campaign, which no doubt will be crucial to their chances of making it to the playoffs.
Also, by far the biggest strength of RCB is the set of overseas players they have at their disposal. Gayle, de Villiers and Starc are certainties in the Challengers’ team sheet; add Wiese to that trio, and you have perfect blend of pure batsmen, bowler and all-rounder. I doubt any other franchise enjoys such a luxury in this aspect of the IPL.
RCB are yet to win at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, which is a really high-scoring ground and toss plays a crucial role in the end-result of the game.
If you lose the toss and are asked to bat first, as a batting side you got to contend with the pressure of setting a total your bowlers can defend. But, even after posting totals in excess of 180, the target can be made to look a small one if one opposition batsman holds fort for his team.
This is one area that the Royal Challengers need to work on and possibly register a couple of victories in their upcoming home games against the Royals and Knight Riders.
If they don’t start winning on their home turf, they will make the task of making it to the last four that much more tougher for themselves, as they are yet to travel to venues like Wankhede Stadium and Chidambaram Stadium, where it is not going to be easy to get results, not that they are incapable of.
On current form, it is probably their home form that will cause some concern for them. In addition, the brittle middle order may cause them problems if Virat or Gayle, or both of them, fail on a given day and de Villiers has to stabilize the ship.
RCB may have won only 50% of their games so far in this season’s IPL, but there are already signs that they are going to be a force to reckon with this season. Yes, there are a few chinks in their armor, like any other IPL side, but few sides have the balance that the Royal Challengers Bangalore enjoy.