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IPL 2017: The toothless Lions and a challenged lot

If the Royal Challengers Bangalore appear to have switched off, Gujarat Lions just haven't fired as a unit.

RCB have simply refused to switch on in IPL 2017

It seems the most popular of the franchisees in IPL 2017, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), are simply going through the motions. And their latest result, a solitary point garnered from the abandoned game against Sunrisers Hyderabad, must have only incensed them to no end. 

To reckon that their entire campaign thus far has been beyond their control and fateful is to run away from the cold truth. For on numerous occasions, they simply have refused to turn up at the venues, switched on. 

To call them "royally challenged" would not be out of place as the latest decimation on a fresh and pacey pitch at Eden Gardens at the hands of the Kolkata Knight Riders, opened its wounds and caused unrestrained hemorrhage. There simply has not been a case of a greater and severe collective meltdown than the one that occurred at the Eden where they nearly put themselves in a good position to tame the Kolkata lion in its own den after having skittled the hosts for a measly score. 

RCB's abject tale started with the injury concerns to its star players. If this stunted their start, the poor run of form displayed by their ageing veterans in Gayle and Watson has only exacerbated their agony. Having packed up their international bags, the duo has seemingly lost their edge. It is after all a challenge to be out of touch for so long in a calendar year and yet expect to hit red-hot form against a bunch that is sharp, more eager and younger.

And I am not even citing the initial hiccup that warranted Virat Kohli and de Villiers' absence, courtesy their injuries. That they have sorely missed their stars from the past few seasons, KL Rahul and Mitchell Starc, goes without saying. 

In a tournament replete with an equal number of home and away games, potentially champion sides play well away from home too to earn their stripes and in that earnest endeavor emerge as an outfit that shuts its opponent.

Take the case of their game versus Mumbai Indians (MI) at Bangalore. RCB had the visitors on the mat at 7/4 after Samuel Badree's hat-trick. Yet they allowed MI off the hook, even as Pollard stole their thunder. Had they closed that game down, they may well have bonded better, such is the unrestrained strength that teams derive by winning close games against former champions and table-toppers. 

Without reading too much into it, one senses an absence of collective and "hard old desperation", akin to the one the Virat Kohli displays during excruciating run chases. The visible absence of sustained excellence has sorely dented their pursuit. 

It now appears that lest Virat Kohli bury his lately developed indifferent form, the chances of his side making it to the playoffs appear bleak. They would also do well to recall and take heart that they have encountered similar positions in the past. In 2016, when pushed against the wall, they won 6 matches on the trot to make it to the title clash. And in that sense, all is not lost just yet. 

The toothless Lions

The ill-fated campaign of Gujarat Lions in this edition of IPL can be ascribed to the misplaced faith placed on some of the players retained and signed. The absence of Bravo and a bowling cupboard bereft of teeth only adds to their woes.

A batting line-up of illustrious names does not guarantee runs on the board and Gujarat's batting stars have not fired in unison. That they tinkered with an unsettled opening combination has upset their applecart and only compounded their miseries.

The big names haven't quite set the house on fire for Gujarat Lions

Although the four foreign players play a key part in the composition of the team's lineup and its resultant fate, it is the form and performance of the rest of the crew that tilts the scales eventually. And it is in this area that Gujarat have been dismal and the results show.  

At Rajkot, they did not find the answers with the ball. It is another matter that nearly all their overseas players have not hit the straps with the odd exception of Brendon McCullum. Players of the caliber of Dwayne Smith, Jason Roy, Aaron Finch and James Faulkner haven't quite set the house on fire. Praveen Kumar's incisive strikes with the new ball is visibly missing and a young and promising Basil Thampi can do only so much with his screaming yorkers at the death in his maiden season.

The scars of the crushing defeat at the hands of KKR in its lung opener exposed their strategy at the very start and the absence of Dwayne Bravo, their talisman all-rounder, was sorely felt. The opposing batsmen, having cited the scarce bowling, have run amok. Once a team is unable to scalp wickets at regular intervals to choke the opponents, they find themselves playing "catch-up cricket" while being unable to make any headway.  

Bravo's void has been filled by Andrew Tye to a certain extent and mitigated their woes. Despite his hat-trick, the fact that he has festered in the shed when the team copped a pounding is astounding, to say the least. If a hat-trick doesn't earn the respect of a team management, nothing else truly will.  

Another big name that Gujarat banked on was Ravindra Jadeja. His form has turned cold and despite an adequate self-imposed break, he has just not arrived. After a vein of red hot form in the longer format which catapulted him to the No.1 status, his alarming meltdown with the ball in IPL 20017 has stunted the Lions' march.

Extra Cover: Gujarat Lions replace Shivil Kaushik with Ankit Soni

Gujarat's spin cupboard is threadbare and the likes of Shivil Kaushik, when up against the might of batting stalwarts, have faced the heat. To compound the unabated misery, the Indian internationals have let them down. If Dhawal Kulkarni hasn’t found his feet yet, Munaf Patel is well and truly over the hill. 

Despite their belief that an over and a bit of inspired cricket might swing the fortunes in their favour, the lack of form, as individuals and as a unit, has resulted in the team's collective failure. The occasional spurts of brilliance from Suresh Raina, Brendon McCullum, Dinesh Karthik and Andrew Tye have been an aberration more than anything else. Given that they have not pulled their weight together constantly and consistently enough, it is no surprise that they are languishing at the bottom of the table.

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