Royal Challengers Bangalore gained a feverish second wind and went all the way to the Champions League final at Chennai. The summit clash, however, proved to be an anti-climax and RCB failed to shed its bridesmaid tag

On a humid Sunday night at Chennai's M.A. Chidambaram Stadium, Royal Challengers Bangalore understood the meaning of the phrase “so near yet so far”. RCB lost to Mumbai Indians in the Champions League final and it was a tale that bucked the form book as Daniel Vettori's men seemed to have the force with them when they boarded the flight to Chennai.

Mumbai Indians mustered 139 and that was hardly a testing target for RCB, considering its rich vein of scores in the immediate past – 204, 215 and 206. However as the night ebbed away, RCB imploded for 108 on a turgid pitch where a regular flow of the low-profile singles and twos would have done the trick instead of the extravagant six.

Even after Lasith Malinga shattered Tillakaratne Dilshan's stumps, RCB was still in the hunt. Harbhajan Singh's twin blows that showed the exit to Chris Gayle and Virat Kohli changed the script. RCB's greatest strength turned out to be its crushing weakness as all along the team had banked on Gayle, Dilshan and Kohli and the trio had delivered.

The three batsmen have varying techniques but are fused together with an aggressive mind-set and they collectively amassed 635 runs while the remaining 11 players, who were tried out in all the other games, chipped in 376. The over-reliance on the top-order also meant that on days like the final when the key men failed, the rest were unable to paper over the cracks.

Saurabh Tiwary and Mayank Agarwal had an opportunity to prove that they too could deliver but the pressure of the chase got the better of them. For men like coach Ray Jennings and mentor Anil Kumble, it was a frustrating exercise to sit in the dug-out and watch the batsmen fritter away an honest tilt at the title with lopsided shots that kept the fielders in the deep interested.

The disappointment that was visible on team owner Vijay Mallya's face was a reflection of the expectations that RCB had whipped up after its spectacular revival in the last four stage. Losses against Warriors and Kolkata Knight Riders in the initial rounds meant that RCB had minimal chances of progressing and was banking on winning its last two Group B games, increasing its net run rate and hoping that other teams will mess up their fortunes.

RCB lifted itself up and with Gayle at the forefront, Somerset and South Australia were cast aside. The match against South Australia was that classic fix that all fans crave for – the last-ball six to finish a match in style. Unsung Arun Karthik slammed Daniel Christian to trigger wild scenes of celebration and a semi-final berth became a reality.

Vettori's men then put it past New South Wales in the semi-final and the team seemed to have acquired an impregnable air despite the glitches surrounding its middle-order batsmen and the sudden dip in the form of seamers Dirk Nannes and S. Arvind. The bowling was back to its element in the final but the batting crumbled. For RCB this was the third time that it crashed in a final. RCB lost the Indian Premier League final this year and also in 2009. In the road ahead, RCB needs its other players to support the core group of Gayle, Dilshan, Kohli and Vettori. Expecting the quartet to shine every time is a tough proposition. The team needs a few youngsters to show that they belong to the big stage like how Manish Pandey sparkled in 2009.

There are also a few gains, the biggest being the strengthening of the team's brand identity with Bangaloreans. After the squad was freshly cast with players from other States and overseas, RCB had lost its local flavour. Only a few such as Arvind were able to lend the mannina-maga (son-of-the-soil) flavour. However by their forceful performances, men like Gayle and Kohli have found a resonance in the stands at the Chinnaswamy Stadium and that augurs well. Hopefully next time around, RCB will not be a spent-force when it squares up in a final.

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012