Another year. Another edition of the Indian Premier League. Another opportunity for the tournament's luckless but immensely watchable black sheep - the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) - to break their duck and finally open their account in terms of league championships. And with the IPL likely to be expanded to a ten-team league next year, like it was in 2011, there might never be a better chance as far as opportunities go.
RCB fans on social media have been bullish about their new-look side's chances this IPL season. But the Virat Kohli-led side have many reasons to quietly feel confident this could finally be their year in the sun.
While their bench strength still seems to leave something to be desired, they have a power-packed starting XI that should consistently win them games if key players in the lineup perform.
Here are five potential reasons why this really could be the year of #EeSaalaCupNamde:
#1 Virat Kohli opening the batting for RCB again
Kohli declared at the end of the India v England T20I series that he was going to open the batting in IPL 2021 in preparation for the ICC T20 World Cup 2021. RCB fans will be licking their lips in anticipation of how their captain will perform on the league's return to India.
Kohli opening the batting in T20 cricket makes sense in many ways: the best batsman in the side deserves to face the highest number of balls in the shortest format of the game. Moreover, Kohli tends to take his time at the beginning of the innings before accelerating hard after he's well set to improve his run-scoring strike rate.
Opening the batting gives him the freedom to accumulate runs in a risk-free manner and play second-fiddle in partnership with a more free-scoring slogger, before he takes over and imposes his shots towards the end. Having Kohli at the top also makes room for another dynamic finisher-type batsman/all-rounder in the middle order, something RCB have sorely needed over the years.
IPL 2016 saw Virat Kohli's finest IPL performance of his career, opening the batting for RCB with Chris Gayle with phenomenal returns - 973 runs at a strike rate of 152.03 and a stupendous average of 81.08, including 4 hundreds and 7 fifties. While he hasn't been able to occupy the opening slot regularly in recent seasons - mostly due to RCB's decision to buy & play other specialist openers - this season offers Kohli the opportunity to solidify his batting credentials as a T20 opener once again. It will also prepare him to open the batting with Rohit Sharma in India's challenge at their home T20 World Cup this October.
#2 Dynamic new middle order
Every single IPL cricket-watcher and armchair pundit worth his salt knew about RCB's middle-over struggles in last year's edition of the IPL, with Virat Kohli's side scoring a lowly 6.80 runs per over in overs 6-16 in IPL 2020. This put an inordinate amount of pressure on the side to quicken the scoring in the death overs, with even superlative efforts at the close often not enough to get the side to a winning total.
Thankfully, this issue seems to have been resolved by the side's auction activity before IPL 2021. Glenn Maxwell, bought for a hefty price-tag of ₹14.25 crore, had an indifferent IPL by his lofty standards in the previous edition held in the UAE, but is undoubtedly one of the IPL's best finishers with a career strike rate of 154.68 in the league.
In the company of a pair of legends of the game in Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers as well as a large group of fellow Antipodeans in Director of Cricket Operations Mike Hesson, and players Dan Christian (more on him in a minute), Kyle Jamieson, Josh Philippe, Kane Richardson, Daniel Sams, Adam Zampa and Finn Allen, hopes are high that Maxwell can rediscover his destructive best.
Another purchase RCB have made to address their middle-order woes is the evergreen T20 veteran Daniel Christian, signed for ₹4.80 crore. The 37-year pace-bowling all-rounder is not only an ex-RCB player himself, but has a wealth of experience in the shortest format of the game, having scored over 5000 T20 runs at a 140+ strike rate to boot.
He has also enjoyed astonishing success in T20 competitions around the world, having played for 16 T20 franchises, playing 11 T20 franchise finals and winning seven of them, the most recent being the BBL 2021 final where he was a big part of the championship-winning Sydney Sixers team. He even scored an incredible fifteen-ball fifty in the tournament, the second-fastest BBL fifty of all time.
Along with AB de Villiers, Glenn Maxwell and Washington Sundar, Christian should provide impetus to the RCB middle and death overs and ensure they score at a fast-enough rate to regularly reach totals of 160-180 or more.
RCB have also secured the services of one of international cricket's hottest properties in Kyle Jamieson. The 26-year old New Zealand bowling all-rounder went for a huge fee of ₹15 Cr. Jamieson stole the show in his debut Test series against India, with excellent displays of disciplined bowling and attacking batting down the order for the Black Caps.
He has transitioned since then into a veritable three-format all-rounder of huge potential for the Kiwis. His good batting strike rate means he can be a real handful for opposition bowlers in the slog overs this IPL.