When Star Sports aired the advertisement for IPL 2020, with the tag ‘Tera (13) kya hoga Kohliya,’ it was definitely cringe-worthy but it gave an essence of what Royal Challengers Bangalore as a side were. A bunch of superstars, with the bat failing to win their games because of their bowling.
Now, I won’t blame them for the campaign, it perfectly represented the franchise’s history, one where trophies never seemed their way. The trolls about their campaign ‘Ee Sala Cup Namde’ too echoes in the entire country, especially Twittersphere for not in a positive way but in rather trolling manner. While all of their southern neighbours were walking away with trophies, there lied in a corner, a Royal Challengers Bangalore team, who were not even true to their team - they were neither Royal nor they challenged the others. They challenged themselves in ways to outwit and finish at the bottom of the table.
So when the IPL Auctions for the 2020 season concluded, the trolls were back, as RCB had shelled Rs 10 crore on Chris Morris, outbidding everyone seemingly in their way for the all-rounder. Franchises did see the worth in him but none really had put an iota of trust on him, in retaining him. Chennai Super Kings let him slip and so did Delhi Capitals, despite him performing ably for both the franchises. What was the fuss about that then? Well, the troll about South African all-rounder not being worth that amount but really, they didn’t set the amount either.
Since IPL became a thing, the Red and Golds only reached the final twice - once in 2011 and the other in 2016. Both of them had a recurring pattern - their side had the Orange Cap holder, Chris Gayle with 608 runs and Virat Kohli with a 973 run season later. In equal measures, their problem still remained the same, restricting the opposition to a chaseable score in the final. First, it was CSK, where they conceded 205 and then it was Sunrisers Hyderabad, where they conceded 208. Both the defeats were deafening, both for their stunning collapse with the bat and a terrible performance with the ball.
Could they do any better from that? Yes, but would they do any better in the seasons to follow, no, as they finished at the bottom half of the table, unfazed. A visibly angry Virat Kohli would walk into every post-match presentation and utter the same ol’ words, ‘Yes we were not good with the ball, our fielding was a mess and that was the difference.’ That really was the difference - poor fielding and terrible bowling had cost them a glory but even their brilliant batters could not chase down totals. And then walked the Kiwi coach who turned into their Team Director, Mike Hesson, with a mountainous job. The fans weren’t happy and neither was the team, it required another dispatch.
A bunch of players walked out just in the same way - Shane Watson, Sunil Badree, Brendon McCullum, none aiding their cause. The Indian bowling contingent was never there, barring the likes of Zaheer Khan, Vinay Kumar and Sreenath Aravind. But they were not there anymore and neither was Umesh Yadav in the right form for them to take the gamble. The work was there to be done, they needed a new approach, one that moved away from what they always did in order to ‘Play Bold.’ It had to start somewhere, apart from not trolling their skipper for the decisions he took. Then began the ‘soul searching’ moment for them, as they started constructing the team.
Chris Morris, who they bought in the Auction was a major piece of that but the biggest piece was always going to be another Saffer - AB de Villiers. For the last two years and even more, RCB had to employ Parthiv Patel behind the sticks after Quinton de Kock had left them for Mumbai Indians. Their opening partnership was a mess, with Virat Kohli promoting himself, which left them with more spots to fill.
So a move to give AB the gloves had a greater significance to the team - they finally could afford another bowler who would give them the edge over the other side. Their trust, which was well backed by the statements from the management to trust the local youngsters - Devdutt Padikkal, Washington Sundar and Shivam Dube - started working for them. Kohli finally understood the best usage of the right-arm spinner, who was a menace in the powerplay, even without his ability to greatly turn the ball square. Washington rightly obliged, taking up the responsibility and coming up good, picking up five wickets in seven games, at an average of 21.60, already having played four games more than last season.
He then put his trust in Navdeep Saini over Umesh, a move that has worked out in wonders for them. Saini in 2019 was primarily used as their wicket-taking option, now in a slightly more balanced role, he is the only Indian pacer in the outfit. Alongside that, comes in Dube’s role of not only hitting the ball long but doubling up as a bowling option, in case he needs that, the 79 runs and four wickets, is just a testament to the faith repaid. The biggest thing, however, has to be the blooming form of Padikkal, an option that they never seemed to risk in the last two years.
After two years of warming up the bench, Padikkal finally got the opportunity, when RCB took the ‘Play Bold’ tag seriously, which has turned their fortune upside down. In 2019, Parthiv did score 373 runs as an opener but at an average of just 26.64, which put Kohli under the pump to accelerate from the other end, leaving them one batting option less in the middle-overs. Combining Padikkal with Finch at the top, they now have an opening partnership, which has the ability to both accumulate runs and score at a brisk pace - 414 runs in 342 deliveries, allowing Kohli and de Villiers to wind up in their own sweet time.
That’s not it all, de Villiers behind the stumps has also allowed RCB with the extreme luxury of opting for another pace option, which they have duly obliged in the form of Isuru Udana and Chris Morris. Morris’ role thus far has been clear - pick wickets upfront and bowl at the death. Udana is more of the latter than the former, his speciality in T20 cricket. In between them, they have 13 wickets, having only played seven matches in between them, showcasing how massively they have upgraded their vehicle of operation. Udana has bowled 38.4 overs in the death, picking up 17 wickets in his T20 career, at an average of 18.9, striking every 13th delivery and Morris, with 75 wickets at an average of 16.5, form one of the best partnerships in this season's IPL.
Have they got the big names in the IPL Auction, the Maxwells, the Cummins or the Coulter-Niles? No, they got the missing pieces that they needed, which in turn now frees up the responsibility of both Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. Since the start of the season, de Villiers has scored 228 runs in seven games, at an average of 57, striking the ball at 185.36, with 33 boundaries and four catches behind the stump. Meanwhile, Kohli with the pressure eased has scored 256 runs, all coming at an average of 64, striking it a bit under-par at 127.36 but with seven more games to come, it surely is set to rise. So the problem for RCB was never their batting but their bowling and with 41 wickets in seven games, that has seen a drastic improvement.
Now that’s only half the job done, with seven games gone, they find themselves at the top half of the table but with the team combination that they possess, it makes it increasingly difficult for the other teams to create a huge chink to their armour, one that relatively stayed fully intact in the tournament thus far. They might or might not win the tournament but they finally have the right balance, 13 years later which would propel them to at least be an able competitor if they reach the final!