The Year of the Royal Challenger
The title of IPL champions has eluded the Royal Challengers Bangalore for the ten years of their existence. The big names - Rahul Dravid, Jacques Kallis, Kevin Pieterson, Yuvraj Singh, Dale Steyn, Tillakaratne Dilshan, and most notably, Chris Gayle, have all come and gone, without bringing the title to the Bengaluru based outfit.
However, in their 11th year of existence, the team maybe has its best chance yet to take home the much-coveted title.
Old and new faces
The two big superstars AB De Villiers and Indian captain Virat Kohli will continue to bring the x-factor. On their day, there are no better players to watch than these two and they both have the ability to win games on their own. Team captain Kohli has been a part of the franchise since the first IPL and he bleeds red and gold.
These two have been together since 2011, and this year they will be supported by potentially the best bowling attack RCB has put together in their history.
Add to this two more overseas talents - one upcoming star, Quinton De Kock, and a veteran in former Kiwi captain Brendan McCullum. If McCullum can rekindle his form from previous editions, then the crowds that visit the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium are in for some fireworks. The gloves will be in the safe hands of De Kock, who like his countryman De Villiers brings that X factor with the bat.
Finely balanced attack
The names may not be as big as the likes of Dale Steyn and Mitchell Starc (both have previously played for RCB) but there is heaps of quality in there. Umesh Yadav brings nine years of IPL experience with him and has the ability to bowl at speeds greater than 140 kmph.
He will be supported by one of the best acquisitions at this years auction, England all-rounder Chris Woakes. Woakes burst onto the IPL scene last year, as he became an unexpected star for the Kolkata Knight Riders. He will provide tight, economical bowling at the top as well as the ability to add pivotal runs at the end, something RCB have struggled with in past years.
New Zealander Tim Southee brings further experience to the seam bowling department along with promising Indian left-arm Kulwant Khejroliya.
The spin department will be led by impressive Indian spin duo, Yuzvendra Chahal and promising youngster Washington Sundar. Chahal has consistently been in the hunt for the purple cap, awarded to the tournaments highest wicket-taker, in the last couple of years and we can expect that form to continue in 2018. Add to this Englishmen Moeen Ali, who will be useful with both ball and bat, and the bowling unit looks impressive.
Must win game?
It would be an exaggeration to describe the second game of the tournament as a must win. However, after an opening day four-wicket defeat at Eden Gardens to the Kolkata Knight Riders, RCB will be feeling the pressure going into their home opener on Friday against Kings XI.
Chris Woakes took three wickets on his debut and this was not the only positive to come from the defeat. McCullum got them off to an absolute flyer striking 42 from 27 balls and had it not been for the loss of the Skipper and De Villiers in the same over the result may well have been different.
To be successful they must avoid losing wickets in clumps as it will disrupt the tempo of the innings, as it did on Sunday. With the ball, if Kohli turns to Sundar in the powerplay again the youngster will have to produce a better performance than he did on Sunday.
Despite the opening day defeat, RCB are well placed to make a good run at the title, especially if their captain can rekindle his 2016 IPL form where he scored 973 runs averaging 81.08.
That year, Kohli could do no wrong, except failing to bring home the title in the final against the Sunrisers. This year, he has a bowling attack capable of helping RCB go the whole way and finish the job this time.
So the only question that remains is, can they all deliver on the big stage and come together as a team? We will have to wait 6 weeks for the answer but, the Challengers have a great chance to make this a red and gold year.