One more time for RCB, but can the outcome be different?
“All over again for RCB, one more time, and forever,” said skipper Virat Kohli in the lead-up to the twelfth season of the Indian Premier League.
Twelve seasons have gone by, with Kohli leading the franchise in the last six, but the Royal Challengers Bangalore have no title to account for despite making it to three semifinals and as many finals, with a side that on paper always seemed to have all bases covered, and boasting of superstars in their ranks.
But if the addition of superstars was contention for the silverware making its way home, they would’ve had multiple to account for. While they have consistently added these stars season after season to their ranks, they have just as consistently punched below their weight.
With a new season around the corner, however, there’s the very legitimate threat of history repeating itself all over again for RCB.
The infusion of a fresh culture within the RCB set-up seems at the top of the priority list this year to ensure a shared purpose of what they want to achieve as a team. While so much significance is lent to developing a culture, one wonders if that could be a distraction from the actual task at hand – of winning their maiden title.
RCB replaced Daniel Vettori with Gary Kirsten as coach cum mentor, with Ashish Nehra assisting him in the bowling department in their bid for a title, but largely, their problems from the past seem to still persist to a large extent.
Despite that, at the Chinnaswamy stadium, as seen in the last 12 years, the oppositions will have have to front up against a riled up Red Army. Not the RCB XI in the middle, but their scores of loyal supporters, who have turned up year after year packing the stadium to the hilt with unbridled enthusiasm despite the disappointments of the past.
While that will be the same this year, can the fortune of their team be different? Any at all?
Possible starting XI: Parthiv Patel, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Shimron Hetmyer, Moeen Ali, Shivam Dube, Akshdeep Nath, Colin de Grandhomme/Tim Southee, Washington Sundar/Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal
Others in squad: Devdutt Padikkal, Heinrich Klaasen, Himmat Singh, Colin de Grandhomme, Pawan Negi, Milind Kumar, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Prayas Barman, Navdeep Saini, Kulwant Khejroliya, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Navdeep Saini
Strengths: The Red Army and batting superstarsThat RCB have always been a batting heavy side is no secret. Their top and beefed-up middle order this year comprises of heavyweights with the likes of Kohli, AB de Villiers, Shimron Hetmyer and Marcus Stoinis or even Heinrich Klaasen, who can easily change the course of a game. They gave up Quinton de Kock, but Stoinis not just is more than handy with the bat, but can pick up wickets at crucial junctures too.
There’s also a reason why Kohli singled out coming to the Chinnaswamy year after year and playing for RCB in front of the fan base they have been able to build as one of the reasons for his side never lacking motivation despite the failures of the past. Teams across sport bank on picking up vital points in their home games, not just due to the familiarity of conditions, but also being spurred on thousands of supporters, gives them a moral boost when required, which RCB could use having won 4 of their 7 games last season and just one in the previous one.
Weakness: The finishing problemWhat RCB have constantly lacked is a gun death bowler, and an experienced finisher to polish off games.
Umesh Yadav, despite having had a great season last year, doesn’t inspire confidence when it comes to death bowling, nor does Mohammed Siraj. They have the overseas options of Tim Southee to start off with, but given their temptation to play an extra batter, they may opt for Colin de Grandhomme, whose bowling isn’t exactly his strength.
Nathan Coulter-Nile is a handy option in the death, after having missed out last year due to injury, but the Australian players only join their respective squads early in April, which will keep out not just the paceman, but also Marcus Stoinis.
Much of the onus to finish games will be on Stoinis to finish games, in the absence of Mandeep Singh who was the designated finisher last season. His recent outings for Australia in India will inspire confidence where he more often than not kept his side afloat after quick wickets at the top. Although, having Hetmyer, Stoinis and Shivam Dube in your lower-middle order can be a luxury, but with two of them never having played an IPL before, could be make or break.
Opportunity: Rising starsThe lack of a finisher early in the season, however, gives uncapped Shivam Dube the perfect opportunity to showcase his skills and cement his spot as RCB’s finisher, and validate his price tag of a whopping 5 crores. The medium pace all-rounder from Mumbai has not played a lot of Syed Mushtaq Ali games this season, but has risen up the pecking order in the last one year owing to his consistency and big-hitting skills. He has proven that in the past dispatching Pravin Tambe for five sixes in an over in the Mumbai T20 league, before a repetition in a Ranji Trophy game against Baroda against Swapnil Singh last year.
Washington Sundar could do with the opportunity of opening, if given the chance, but it’s unlikely that RCB would want to keep Kohli away from the chance of getting an early move on given the purple patch he is in.
Threat: Over-reliance on their constantsRCB have relied heavily on their pair of constants in Kohli and de Villiers, year after year, which will more likely than not remain the case this season as well. The lack of a constant Indian middle order batsman could hurt them as well. Pawan Negi is an option, but he hasn’t had a breakthrough season so far yet.
However, the main threat for RCB lies really in being RCB, and as Kohli said, making bad decisions in crunch situations, which has had them falling short when it matters most.