RCB suffer again in absence of cohesion

Even before the halfway mark of IPL 2018 was reached, Royal Challengers Bangalore’s tagline for the season began to turn into fodder for the rather cruel and unforgiving fans of the tournament [and the other seven sides]. They mocked, they joked and even got creative with memes on the internet, while RCB struggled to match the lofty expectations of four casual, vernacular words put together to form something highly ambitious. At some point, the Karnataka players in other franchises joined in the fun too, indirectly goading RCB with their own renditions of the now-infamous ‘Ee sala cup namade’.

And just like that, yet another IPL campaign for RCB tapered to an underwhelming finish. The shortcomings of 2018 were uncannily similar to those of 2017, as was the batting theatre on display via two giants – Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. Just for that perhaps, fans continued to wear jersey #18 and 19, and flocked to the Chinnaswamy, sang, chanted, waved flags religiously, and on some days, went home with the satisfaction of watching two modern-day greats go about their day’s work.

Has that alone retained RCB fans’ unwavering loyalty? Is that why they continue to shell out big money with the expectation of three hours of thrill from the two aforementioned individuals? Perhaps.

Are the owners at peace with yet another season of thrills but no silverware to quantify it? The jury is still out on that.

What worked for them?

Kohli, de Villiers and Umesh Yadav.

Between them, Kohli and de Villiers smashed 1,010 runs this season. It wasn’t their best output in a single season, but there were multiple fixtures where both showed that RCB belonged to playoffs and deserved a crack at silverware. But the lack of enough support from all fronts weighed them down.

Among the bowlers, Yuzvendra Chahal could pick just 12 wickets as the workload on the lone experienced spinner on the side began to show. Umesh Yadav turned out to be a fine acquisition for INR 4.2 crore, as he finished with 20 wickets, just four shy of the league’s best – Andrew Tye.

What pulled them back?

Death bowling.

Incredibly erratic bowling in the first half of the tournament ended up defining their season. By the time they’d played their first seven games, they already had five defeats – three of which they could’ve won with better bowling aptitude.

Kohli’s craving for a perfect all-round performance were too few and too late for RCB to salvage their season on. As always, RCB were a team with individuals capable of flashes of absolute brilliance, but they couldn’t find the sort of cohesion that could’ve at least taken them to the next round of fixtures.

What did they sorely miss?

A consistent batting option beyond Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, and a good spin partner for Yuzvendra Chahal

KL Rahul made RCB think-tank’s decision to not retain him, and not even raise the baton once in a 43-bid four-way tussle, appear like the biggest misjudgement of the season. In the absence of a reliable Indian batsman of similar ilk, RCB have often found their innings fold in the absence of Kohli and de Villiers. Between them, they’ve amassed 1,010 runs this season, but Mandeep Singh, their third best batter, has just 252 runs. To put that in perspective, the third best scorer of six out of the remaining seven teams have scored more. The only one to score lesser than Mandeep is Delhi Daredevils’ Prithvi Shaw (245 runs), who has played five matches fewer.

Among the spinners, Washington Sundar was supposed to link up with Chahal and provide the ‘balance’ that Kohli talked up before the season. But that wasn’t to be, as the spinner from Tamil Nadu picked up just four wickets in seven matches while conceding runs at 9.60 an over. The Bangalore pitch wasn’t sluggish enough for Pawan Negi to repeat his 2017 heroics either, leaving Chahal with too much to do. The success of having two or more spinners for majority of season.

Signing of the season

Umesh Yadav

The Indian pacer didn’t start on the brightest note, but once RCB realised that he is best suited to bowl in the early stages of the game, and not at the death, Kohli was able to bring the best out of him. RCB couldn’t go far but Umesh soared to his best IPL season – ending with his best wicket tally (20) and an economy rate below eight-an-over for the first time since 2012.

What’s on the highlights reel?

AB de Villiers’s 39-ball 90 against Delhi Daredevils gave stiff competition to… AB de Villiers’s 37-ball 72 against Delhi Daredevils. There was a futile 90 from Kohli in a defeat against Mumbai Indians and a highly-impressive half-century from Moeen Ali in just his first game at the Chinnaswamy stadium. There was even a 118-run partnership between Kohli and de Villiers in a successful chase of 182, but the absolute pinnacle performance of the season came against KXIP in a must-win situation. Umesh Yadav led the way with terrorising fast bowling that saw him finish with figures of 3 for 23, and KXIP with a paltry total of 88. Kohli and Parthiv then chased it down in 8.1 overs to give RCB a timely lift.

On a scale of 1 to 10…

Auction and retention strategy [7/10]

The growing feeling after the completion of the player auctions was that RCB had finally managed to attain a sense of balance to their squad. Sundar came in with a lot of T20 reputation to his name, while the investment in the likes of Tim Southee, Umesh, Chris Woakes and Nathan-Coulter Nile amongst a host of others was an indication that they were taking their recent bowling troubles and lopsidedness seriously. Unfortunately for them, Coulter-Nile suffered an injury that’d keep him out of the season completely, leaving RCB with a decision to make on a replacement. Curiously, New Zealand allrounder Corey Anderson – who hadn’t bowled at the highest level for quite sometime – was picked.

The spin department was beefed up further by acquiring Murugan Ashwin [for INR 2.20 Crore] and using an RTM option on Negi [INR 1 crore]. The decision to retain the services of Sarfaraz Khan appeared odd even before the season, and only got worse by the end of it, when he had just 51 runs in seven outings to his name. There’s one theory that suggests RCB couldn’t have managed to retain Kohli and de Villiers for just INR 21 Crore [the amount they are allowed to allocate for the two retentions]. With 33 Crore to allocate for three retentions, Kohli took home INR 17 crore and de Villiers pocketed 11. Out of the remaining five crore, they used up three to retain Sarfaraz as the likes of Rahul, Chahal, Shane Watson and Chris Gayle were expected to fetch a much bigger amount if they’d gone back into the pool. As it turned out, Gayle fetched just one bid – worth INR 2 crore – while CSK snapped up Watson for INR 4 crore.

Another signing that begs to be scrutinised on hindsight is that of fast bowler Navdeep Saini. RCB fought off competition from KXIP and DD to snap up the youngster for INR 3 crore – 15 times his base price of INR 20 lakh. The Delhi pacer’s only exploits came in the nets session, as he didn’t play a single game.

Batting output – 7/10

Quite a disappointing effort outside of the Kohli and de Villiers. Throughout the season, most voices from the side kept insisting there was more to them than just the pair. De Villiers even called it a ‘boring’ theory. But as it turned out, it wasn’t enough to carry them forward. Mandeep impressed, but only in patches. Quinton de Kock and Brendon McCullum couldn’t add the sort of value with the bat, as they would on the field as fellow decision-makers, while the likes of Manon Vohra, Sarfaraz too flattered to deceive. Sundar showed some mettle for big hitting, but his failure to nail down a spot as a bowler meant RCB had to look elsewhere. Parthiv Patel was resigned to the bench for far too long – his tally of just six outings is the second lowest for him after his four appearances in 2010 – while Moeen too managed one good innings in five appearances. Overall the gulf in quality and the runs between the Kohli and AB, and the rest of the batsmen turned out to be far too much.

Bowling prowess – 6/10

RCB went into the season with the reputation of having made serious amends to their bowling artillery, but were jolted by a rude shock at the start. Two weeks into the tournament, RCB had the worst death overs returns. They conceded at a staggering economy of 12.50 in the last five overs. RCB’s season was on a downward slide very early, with four defeats in six matches. Three of those involved abysmal bowling performances at the death – they conceded 70 off last five overs against MI, 88 off last five against Rajasthan Royals and 72 off last 4.4 overs against CSK.

It was only in May that RCB somehow managed to stop the rut and find a bit of stability through the inclusions of Tim Southee and more bowling opportunity for Colin de Grandhomme. It was also the reason why RCB managed to drag on till their very final fixture of the season, where their batting didn’t turn up.

Overall performance – [6/10]

RCB began as favourites for another bottom finish but managed a brief recover in the second half of the season. After two wins in the first seven fixtures, they managed double the amount of success in the next seven, but that still wasn’t enough.

Is 2018 an improvement on 2017?

Technically, yes. They’ve doubled their points tally to go up from seventh spot to sixth. But for a squad with Kohli and de Villiers in it, it turned out to be yet another season of gross underachievement.

What next then?

For the first time, an IPL season is going to be played before a 50-over World Cup and is likely to impact the dynamics of the tournament itself. Amongst that is the big pressing question – Can Kohli and de Villiers afford to run themselves to the ground while attempting to give RCB the elusive title and risk injury and fatigue before such a massive showpiece event? They may not admit it openly, but the likely answer to that question is a big NO. A tricky 2019 IPL ahead for RCB fans.

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