From 2008 to 2021, Royal Challengers Bangalore has appeared in the Indian Premier League knockouts seven times in 14 seasons. That’s a 50 per cent rate of qualification — whether it is deemed a successful season on that account is a different matter altogether. For, it is also true that this much-talked-about, much-hyped, and TRP-glorified franchise is yet to lift the IPL title.
And so, as the 2022 IPL season began, judging by RCB’s history, there was already a 50 per cent chance they wouldn’t win it. Bangalore’s retention and auction trends provided a reference to it as well. It failed to retain either Devdutt Padikkal or Yuzvendra Chahal. The former provided an attacking stability to RCB’s top order in the past couple of seasons while the latter averaged 17 wickets a season for the franchise. Instead, they retained Mohammed Siraj who has been spanked at 9-plus per over this season.
Questionable decisions have always been one of the core issues with RCB. These ranged from the simplest of choices – how could they not retain or even put in a bid for Chahal – to bewildering team selection under Virat Kohli. Until Harshal Patel came of age, RCB didn’t have a proper death bowling attack for a long, long time and simply failed to rectify it in the players’ auctions.
These are basic pointers that raise questions regarding the team direction and the long-term strategy of the franchise. If you are an RCB fan, ask yourself this: Would Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians have let go of Chahal given his record? The answer is an easy no. The nine-time champions believe in consistency, and only the unpredictability of a mega auction season like IPL 2022 has reversed the points’ table on them.
It is almost as if RCB places obstacles in its own path and tries to overcome them across the season. 2022 has been no different. With a haphazard team selection strategy, the management was left with an imbalanced and disjointed squad. Since then, it has been about navigating through the course of this season to overcome those problems, and see if they could end up in the top four. End result – 14 matches gone, the league stage is done, and RCB is still dependent on Delhi Capitals (rather Mumbai Indians) to find out its eventual destiny.
Inconsistent batting and bowling form has seen Bangalore’s fortunes dip and rise in a sinusoidal curve in IPL 2022, just like any other season. Even Faf du Plessis’ sturdy persona was not able to overcome this RCB trademark deficiency. The captain can only do so much – he can score runs, make proper judgment calls, and even chop-change the batting line-up to suit his star players. But those players have to show some accountability at the end of the day.
Glenn Maxwell, for example, has experienced another inconsistent season. After a high-profile move to RCB, which partially clicked in his inaugural season, it was believed he had finally found a home suitable to his mentality and mindset. Even so, the returns aren’t satisfactory in IPL 2022.
Then, there is Dinesh Karthik. He has been exemplary when given clarity of thought regarding his role – smack the ball and finish the game. However, whenever there is a different element involved in his role, Karthik simply doesn’t deserve it. Building the innings is too complicated for him.
Maxwell has 268 runs in 11 games. Karthik scored 287 in 14 games. Bangalore has had to plug the gaps by relying on uncapped talent. Anuj Rawat got a good start but his form tapered off quickly. 129 runs in 8 games weren’t enough. Rajat Patidar has done his bit, with 163 in five innings but his main contribution was to allow a key change in batting line-up. This is where Virat Kohli comes into the picture.
On Thursday night, Kohli scored his 7000th run for RCB. Second-placed AB de Villiers has 4522 runs for this franchise. The gap underlines two vital points – Kohli’s longevity and impact on RCB’s fortunes, even if the combination hasn’t resulted in silverware.
This season has been an especially tough crawl for Kohli. Coming on the back of some poor international form, and captaincy drama, he has looked a lost soul. Golden ducks, followed by sarcastic smiles, became the norm. In 14 matches, he has scored 309 runs. He had previously scored 308 in 2017, but that was in 10 games and it came on the heels of a spectacular 2016 season – 973 runs. You have to go all the way back to 2010 to find a similar poor IPL return from Kohli – 307 runs in 16 matches. Truth be told though, he is a totally different batsman (and person) from 12 seasons ago.
Self-created obstacles, whether it is off-field issues or not doing the basics right, have plagued this 2022 season. When you are out of form, invariably it seems there are more fielders than gaps on the field, and you tend to get out easily. But Kohli has caught some strays this season – cutting to backward point, edging to second slip in T20 cricket, a simple catch off spin to mid-wicket first ball, and so on.
You almost started to question if Kohli was doing the basics right, if his mindset was clouded and whether his mental space was clear enough to fight out of this rut. Perhaps the biggest worry was reflected in his running between the wickets – four mixups and runouts this season, twice out himself and twice his partners. A confident Kohli pushes hard between the wickets and strives for that extra run. This hasn’t been the same batsman for quite some time now.
But, on Wednesday night, the Kohli of old finally came to the fore. 73 off 54 balls – this was his most fluent knock in a while. It was textbook T20 cricket, properly derived from the Kohli playbook – strike about a few boundaries, get ahead of the scoring rate and then knock the ball about. His first 50 runs came off 33 balls, and the latter 23 off 21 – and the job was done in that initial part of the innings. RCB needed an immaculate start and for once their star batsman delivered.
The standout bit from Kohli’s knock was a calming influence in the middle. Barring a few deliveries that spun away, he looked in control, hitting the ball well and dominating the bowling to a large extent. This was the Kohli we have known for a long time, and RCB had desired for long spells through this season. In a way, his struggles and subsequent fight to get back to form has mirrored those of Bangalore’s.
Batting with a clear mind finally, Kohli negated the mental obstacles for himself and the physical ones for RCB. Whether it is enough for playoffs qualification, well, we will know in 48 hours.
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