To win their first-ever Indian Premier League title, Royal Challengers Bangalore have to do what they haven’t been able to so far this season: win three games in a row. Heading into the playoffs, for Virat Kohli and his men, who have lost their final four league games, the task at hand is colossal.
The equation could have been a lot simpler, though. A win in their last league game against Delhi Capitals on Monday would’ve guaranteed RCB a spot in Qualifier 1, which would’ve given them two shots at reaching the final.
But instead of aiming for victory with a positive mindset, RCB chose to be circumspect and paid the price for it. At the end of DC’s comfortable six-wicket win, the comments by both captains summed up the key differentiating factor between the teams on the night.
Here’s what they had to say:
Virat Kohli: “You could say just before the qualification, the mindset was a little bit tentative. We can be more more brave with the bat in pockets. With the ball, we were decent, probably we could have had a strong powerplay which is our strength.”
Shreyas Iyer: “We knew it was a do or die and we just focused on the win, not NRR. We were really motivated. We need to keep things simple, that’s what we discussed in the meetings. Stick to the basics. The more you keep things simple, the easier it gets.”
Asked to bat first in Abu Dhabi, RCB’s tentativeness was visible right off the bat. Openers Devdutt Padikkal and Josh Philippe showed little intent and the first two overs yielded just ten runs. By the end of the powerplay, they had reached 40/1.
The first nine overs saw RCB play well within themselves. Their safety-first approach allowed them to keep wickets in hand, but the run-rate had become a big problem by then. It only was after the strategic timeout at the end of the ninth over that the men in red finally decided to switch gears.
Kohli came down the track in search of a six, mistimed his shot and was dropped by Anrich Nortje at long-on. The next delivery faced by the RCB skipper saw him swing hard and miss it completely. And a couple of overs later, he stepped out and tried to whack one from Ravichandran Ashwin but this time the catch was taken in the deep.
At the end of 14 overs, the Royal Challengers were 90/2 with just one six in their innings (which came in the 12th over). Their timid approach had left them in a position where only an AB de Villiers special would take them to even a par total. But sadly for them, that didn’t happen. The South African managed to hit two sixes but was run-out for 35 off 21 trying to steal a nonexistent second run in order to regain strike.
The top-scorer for Bangalore was Padikkal. The left-hander notched-up his fifth half-century of the season but his strike-rate of 121.95 didn’t do much to help his team’s cause.
With a paltry total of 152 to defend, RCB had little hope of getting the all-important victory. Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane showed maturity and hit half-centuries to help DC win with six wickets and as many deliveries to spare. Fortunately for Bangalore, the Capitals took their time with the chase and ensured they took their opponents along to the playoffs as well.
Make no mistake, reaching the playoffs is an achievement in itself. A team has to dig deep to get there, which is what RCB have done this season. But the worrying thing for them is that their best cricket was played, what seems like, a long time ago. As of now, the team looks rather flat.
In terms of the bowling department, the likes of Yuzvendra Chahal, Washington Sundar, Chris Morris, Navdeep Saini, Mohammed Siraj and Isuru Udana could surely do a lot more but they have all made match-winning contributions at different stages. Bowling isn’t the big concern, it is the batting. And more specifically – the scoring rate.
Padikkal has no doubt had an impressive debut season, with 472 runs in the 14 matches, but his strike-rate of 126.54 could be a lot better. Perhaps, RCB should bring back Aaron Finch at the top of the order to exploit the powerplay. Australia’s white-ball captain has the experience of playing big games and could be more effective than his compatriot Josh Philippe, who has failed to make a mark in the five games he has played.
When it comes to the middle order, RCB seem to be relying solely on de Villiers. The right-hander has hit four half-centuries and won his team a few matches single-handedly, but he desperately needs support. Bangalore have tried a number of batsmen in the middle order – Shivam Dube, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Sundar, Morris – but none of them have made any real impact in the tournament.
Which brings us to the skipper. To put it simply, RCB need Kohli to come to the party. If they are to have a realistic chance of winning three matches on the trot for their first IPL title, the captain has to find his best.
Kohli is the fourth-highest run-scorer in the tournament at the moment (yes, that is surprising) with three half-centuries to his name, but his strike-rate of 122.01 has hurt his team. The right-hander has shown patches of brilliance but for the most part, he has looked insecure at the crease. If he manages to break the shackles, it will take pressure off de Villiers and could trigger a turnaround for RCB.