Eleven seasons and counting. The Royal Challengers Bangalore slogan “Ee Saala Cup Naamde”, or “This year the cup is ours”, is quickly gaining notoriety. The team, despite its bevy of headliners – including Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, arguably the best cricketers of this generation – continues to struggle.
Years have passed. Auctions have come and gone. RCB, though, just can’t figure out a way snap the drought. As they slumped to a 30-run loss to Rajasthan Royals in their final league game of the season, the reason for their perennial shortcomings got a little clearer.
In fact, it was skipper Kohli who seemed quite sure of where it all seems to go wrong for the side.
“The responsibility cannot be taken up only by AB all the time. He certainly scored runs, but others need to contribute around him,” the 29-year-old said.
Kohli can safely add his own name next to de Villiers’s. With 530 runs in 14 games, Kohli is the team’s highest run-getter. With 480 runs, his South African teammate is a close second. The next highest scorer is Mandeep Singh with just 252 runs, nearly half their tally.
Through the season, the highlights of most games involving RCB have been individual performances by the two stalwarts.
While top-order batsmen like Quinton de Kock and Parthiv Patel chipped in with runs from time to time, they were never really match-defining knocks. Mandeep too wasn’t as effective despite is relatively high run tally.
Not just in terms of numbers, it isn’t hard to believe that Kohli and de Villiers harp most of the attention when RCB is playing. Once the chants of “Kohli..Kohli” or even “ABD...ABD” start ringing through, there’s little attention given to others.
Early in the season, it was Kohli who led RCB’s charge with some eye-catching batting performances. The bowling department drew a lot of flak at the time as the team would invariably concede a truck-load of runs in the death overs.
Over the course of the season, the likes of Tim Southee and Mohammad Siraj found their bearings and began rectifying their wayward ways in the crucial stage between overs 15-20.
While the bowlers pulled their socks up, de Villiers also found his impervious form. After recovering from a bout of flu, the South African star was up to what he does best – dominating the opposition.
With an improved bowling performance and ABD up and about, RCB found a new lease of life following a sorry start to the campaign. They registered three wins on the trot to even stay in contention for a playoff berth.
On Saturday, though, the one shortcoming that had been swept under the carpet amid the Kohli-ABD show was left exposed at the most inopportune moment, as RCB chased victory in their final league game of the tournament.
Kohli departed early on Saturday. De Villiers was once again up to the task and delivered with a fine half-century. But, as has been a trend, he received little support from the middle and lower-order.
Mandeep, Moeen Ali, Manan Vohra were tried in various positions through the season, but could not quite make an impact. Ali’s half-century against Sunrisers Hyderabad last week was his first in the five games he has played this season.
“We wanted to strengthen the middle-order which hasn’t happened. It hasn’t been our strength and we need to do that going into the next few seasons,” Kohli said at the post match presentation.
After choosing to ignore big-hitter Chris Gayle in the auction, it appeared that RCB were banking on veteran international star Brendon McCullum to shore up the batting. However, with just two 30-plus scores in the tournament, the Kiwi has been a shadow of himself.
With a spate of bad results early in the season, the team management chose to change the line-up around in nearly every game. No player ever got a fixed slot. Kohli and De Villiers themselves moved up and down the order for the benefit of the team. Kohli jumped between the opening slot and in the middle-order a number of times. De Villiers too had started out batting at No 5, but soon moved up the order as the season progressed.
The constant shuffling of the batting order might not have fazed Kohli and De Villiers much, but it clearly did not help the others settle or even get a run of scores under their belt.
The biggest impact of these changes was felt on Saturday. RCB had staged a dramatic comeback to stay in contention for a playoff berth. The momentum was on their side. Moeen’s performance against Sunrisers had raised hopes for Kohli and the team management that they had finally found the missing cog in their stuttering machine.
However, with a turning track on offer and a determined opposition testing them, the task was not going to be an easy one.
Kohli opened the innings with Parthiv, while De Villiers came one down after the skipper’s early exit. Not only did they falter, it was the manner in which they did that was revealing.
At 75/1, RCB were not really struggling. The wicket prompted a collapse from the other batsmen. De Villiers, meanwhile, was trudging along well at the other end and went onto notch up another half-ton. At the other end, though, wickets kept tumbling as batsman after batsman failed to apply themselves.
Eyebrows were raised even before the season began, when the team management used one of its retention cards to keep youngster Sarfaraz Khan on their roster. The Mumbai-lad seemed to have buckled under the weight of expectations and had a forgettable season. After ten years of going without a title, the auction provided an ideal refresh button, but the opportunity was clearly botched up.
A better strategy and game plan are a need of the hour for the RCB management. The situation fails to improve. Year after year, fans are being let down. It is the management that needs to reflect on their game-plan. They owe it to the fans and to their mainstays Kohli and De Villiers, who are clearly did all that they could. The responsibility does not lie with Kohli and De Villiers alone.