Ever since its starting-block stumble during the Indian Premier League’s inception in 2008, Royal Challengers Bangalore has made a steady climb, though the peak — a trophy triumph — has remained elusive.
From being whipping boys in the inaugural year (RCB finished seventh among eight teams), the squad is now considered a team to watch out for. The turn-around was engineered ever since it finished runner-up in the 2009 edition in South Africa.
The welcome infusion of batting mayhem thanks to Chris Gayle’s presence over the last two years has only added to the team’s allure. And it was largely riding on his heroics that RCB qualified for the 2011 edition’s final, though both the team and Gayle failed in the summit clash against Chennai Super Kings.
As a new season dawns, there has been a change of guard with Virat Kohli being anointed captain. It was a natural progression as Kohli was earmarked as future captain ever since he turned out in the red and gold colours. He had a taste of the hot-seat last year when he briefly stepped in for the then regular skipper Daniel Vettori, who for the sake of team balance sat out a few matches so that Muttiah Muralitharan could represent RCB. Kohli will surely miss chief mentor Anil Kumble, who has moved to the Mumbai Indians camp, but in coach Ray Jennings, the skipper has a solid support-base. Like in the past, the team is driven by its batting that features Gayle, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kohli and A.B. de Villiers. Gayle with his 170.17 strike rate and 1,341 runs, has been the force-multiplier for RCB besides stirring up the local fans, who have overwhelmingly embraced him as one of their own.
That Kohli, RCB’s highest run-getter (1,639), the adventurous de Villiers, who caned fellow South African Dale Steyn during last year’s league, and the maverick Dilshan, all play secondary roles to Gayle is just a testament to the Jamaican’s pulverising strength with the bat. A bristling top-order may be RCB’s strength but that cannot mask its soft underbelly despite the faith invested in Saurabh Tiwary, while Cheteshwar Pujara, though not a regular in the playing eleven, has been ruled out for the first set of matches due to a fractured finger.
It would also be interesting to see how RCB strikes a balance while fielding four foreigners in the eleven as Gayle, de Villiers and Dilshan are almost certainties though the last named has been benched a few times to make way for an extra overseas bowler.
RCB’s bowling, meanwhile, is shadowed by the injuries that plagued its key speedsters (Zaheer Khan and Ravi Rampaul) over the past year, though Jennings believes that his attack will deliver.
The spin department has three experienced men in Muralitharan, Vettori and Murali Kartik while seamers R. Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun along with batsman Mayank Agarwal, lend the local flavour. Australian all-rounders Daniel Christian and Moises Henriques also lend extra options to the team management.
All in all RCB is good to last the distance.