Royal Challengers Bangalore: The uncertain contenders of IPL
The seventh edition of the IPL has uncertainty written all over it. The Franchise-rescindment episode, spot-fixing scandal and election schedules have left people speculating on whether this edition would actually get under way.
Well, as is apparent, IPL 7 is barely a week away from commencing. And while uncertainty might cloud it, there’s no stopping this swashbuckling circus. There’s also no stopping Virat Kohli, who, by the way, is captaining the only team in the IPL with as much uncertainty surrounding it as the IPL itself, the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Ironic much?
The red and gold men have dazzled as well as fizzled all through the IPL. Rock bottom on the table one season, table toppers the next. The main feature of this outfit is their knack of snatching victory from the very jaws (in this case, gloves) of defeat, and throwing away matches where losing has not only looked improbable, but impossible, even.
They have bewildered with their magnificence and abhorrence, on the field and otherwise (E.g. auction inaction, Luke the crook) and possess incredibly potent strengths, not to mention some glaring and blatant weaknesses. Therefore it is only just to say that the only certainty about RCB has been uncertainty.
So, making any predictions about this team would be in vain going by their nature and track record. Yet, here I shall try to unravel the enigma of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, and look into my crystal ball to predict and preview their season ahead. First, I shall delve into the structure of their team.
The Challenger’s greatest strength (and weakness) is their Herculean and demigod-studded top order. Led by the best player this generation has, and probably will see, RCB have the most sought after player in the league in Virat Kohli. No number of superlatives would suffice in describing the RCB skipper. Expect great things from him; he has an insatiable hunger, and an unquenchable thirst.
Next we come to the greatest influence of this team over the last few seasons – the Beast. Christopher Gayle, undoubtedly the most intimidating player the world over, has amassed over 2000 runs in the last 3 seasons alone and is third on the all time IPL run-scorer list, behind Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma, who have played close to 40 matches more than him. Gayle is arguably the most destructive player this format of the game has seen, and gives bowlers a nice, powerful dosage of indigestion coupled with insomnia for days.
And if these two are not enough, there’s still AB “Jack of all trades, master of all” De Villiers. Improvising is his middle name, innovating is his maxim and consistency is his code. These three Titans have sometimes worked in tandem, and at other times have single-handedly obliterated even the most impressive of bowling attacks, rendering the best bowlers useless.
Add to the mix Yuvraj Singh – a mercurial match winner, who may not be in the form of his life, but is on a redemption mission, and you have a top order, for whom winning titles should be duck soup.
Yet, RCB’s greatest strength has, at the most crucial of times, proved the chink in their armour. The team’s dependability on the top three (now four) has burdened these players with immense, immense pressure. And while they are the best to ply their trade, and consummate professionals, they are still humans at the end of the day. Also, as has been seen so often in the past, an astronomical price tag has often resulted in the individual crumbling under the burden of expectation. And with Yuvraj still not the man he used to be, and also considering his not-so-impressive IPL record, this may prove their greatest downfall.
Can this super heavy top order strut their stuff? Past record suggests that they will. If they do come good, it will ensure a real treat for bystanders, especially if you’re a Bangalore fan. Not so much if you’re the bowler.
What distinguishes an extraordinary T20 side from an ordinary one, is the depth, and amplitude of handy contributors. And while RCB haven’t been the kind of team to purchase fringe players effectively in the past, they do have quite a few useful all-rounders and bowlers in their squad.
The foremost priority in the auction (apart from Yuvraj) was to increase pace options, an area where the Challengers have grown weak since the departure of Dale Steyn and the decline of Zaheer Khan. RCB now have a plethora of option in the pace bowling department. The most expensive of these being the highly-rated, Australian Mitchell Starc. While he is not as fast or nearly as dangerous as the other Australian Mitchell, the one with the ‘Mo’, recent performances have seen his stock rise.
A well-stocked arsenal of variations and decent pace make him the undisputed spearhead of RCB’s bowling. He can hardly be considered a fringe player (fringe players don’t cost 5 Crores), but he falls under this category because of his foreignness to the IPL and his relatively young age.
Next, we look at the two genuine fast bowlers in the squad – Varun Aaron and Askok Dinda. Varun Aaron being the faster of the two, is an extremely exciting prospect and will be looking at this opportunity as a springboard to become a regular in the Indian team. Now that he’s back to full fitness, expect some broken headgear. Ashok Dinda on the other hand ,who at one point of time was waiting in the wings, even playing a few games for India, has slowly faded into relative obscurity. He will consider this campaign as a potential Risorgimento for his career. Sandeep Warrier will also be vying for the third pacer slot, after a remarkable showing in the Ranji Trophy.
The lesser known players might well turn out to be the players that make or break the season for RCB. Vijay Zol leads this contingent. Previous captain of the U-19 team, he is a promising prospect. Harshal Patel, who was the break out player last season could play a major role. The nippy Abu Nechim and wily Shadab Jakati have substantial IPL experience under their belt. Nic Maddinson, Sydney Sixers’ highest run getter, is an effective replacement for Chris Gayle, if hindered by injury.
The IPL has, in the past, spurred lesser known players, to great heights. All the fringe players that RCB possess are surely aware of this. Much will hinge on the fringe.
The Royal Challengers have oodles of experience at the international level. Muttiah Muralitharan continues to defy age at 42, Ravi Rampaul has proven the go-to man at the death and Parthiv Patel is entering this season following a heartening Ranji campaign. Albie Morkel, a weighty addition this season, is extremely capable, and who knows that better than the Royal Challengers? Expect these foreign stalwarts to be dependable.
The Royal Challengers Bangalore have a mercurial top order, a specialized set of foreign all-rounders and middle order batsmen, and a promising bunch of fringe players. However, what will prove a concern is the abundance of pace bowlers chosen by the franchise, despite a substantial part of the tournament being played on the low and slow wickets of the UAE. Whether the pacers adapt to the conditions with effective variations, or gets annihilated remains to be seen. A lot rests on the shoulders of Kohli, Gayle, De Villiers and Yuvraj.
Don’t be surprised if this team ends up languishing at the bottom of the table. Also, don’t be surprised if this team lifts the coveted trophy. For, the only certainty about the Royal Challengers Bangalore is uncertainty.Published 11 Apr 2014, 11:04 IST