Ten games into the tenth edition of the Indian T20 league for Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore, and it’s all over already. The finalists of last year effectively became the first team of the tournament to crash out, after losing again to Steve Smith’s Rising Pune Supergiants. After ten games, they have won just two, losing seven, with one match rained out. At this stage in 2016, Kohli had already scored three of his four centuries, and was well on his way to breaking all the tournament’s batting records.
So what exactly has gone wrong for perhaps the most star-studded and exciting team of the league? How can a team that has Chris Gayle, Kohli, Shane Watson, AB de Villiers and Samuel Badree collectively fail for so long? How can a team with that batting line-up score less than 160 in six of their ten games, with only one 200+ score? In their last three games, they have put up totals of 49, 134 and 96 – numbers that you’d associate more as individual scores of their legendary batters at the top.
Here are a few factors that have contributed to RCB’s downfall:
FATIGUE AND EXISTENTIAL CRISIS
Kohli entered this year’s league as an out-of-form batsman coming back from an injury. His team won the final Test against Australia under Ajinkya Rahane, and Kohli had scored less than 100 runs in the three Tests before that. This was in stark contrast to last year, when he entered the tournament being hungry and denied, after ending up as Man of the Series on the losing side once again in a World T20 tournament. He had never really lit up this stage, and he dragged Bangalore almost single-handedly into the finals along with AB de Villiers. He ended the series with 973 runs but again ended up in the losing team. He then had a phenomenal year in Test cricket, before tapering off towards the end of the home season against Australia. Kohli needed a break, and the injury may have taken away a bit of the relentless intensity. He played only after four games for Bangalore this year, and though he has scored a couple of fifties, he has looked far from his dominating self – laboring more often than not, while his team falls around him.
On the other hand, AB de Villiers has had one sparkling innings this year in ten games. He looks low on intent, too, given that he is at a stage in his life where he doesn’t know if cricket is his life anymore. He has taken a “break” from Test cricket, and was injured for most of last year while Faf du Plessis took over the Test captaincy and won many matches for South Africa. AB is still the limited overs captain, but he may just be building up on a personal note to the 2019 World Cup. He wants one badly, and he seems to be pacing his body and availability accordingly. He has looked out of sorts this year, despite the odd sparkle.
THE LESSER STARS
The absence of K. L. Rahul and Sarfaraz Khan, thanks to injuries, seems to have hurt the balance of the side more than expected. Rahul was the perfect opener and in great form – because of which the team has had to experiment with many openers opposite Kohli, including Gayle (who isn’t as prolific as he once was) and Travis Head and Shane Watson. Then there was pocket rocket Sarfaraz Khan, the chubby teenager who had made a habit of finishing the innings with a bang. He would have batted after Kedar Jadhav in the order, giving Bangalore the kind of innovative boost they’ve been so desperately missing.
Perhaps the thing that has hurt them the most is Aussie speedster Starc’s absence from the tournament. He made himself unavailable as soon as he got injured in the India series, and Kohli will miss the way he cleaned up the tail – especially given that he isn’t on “good terms” with any of the current Australian stars. Nobody stood a chance against Starc in the slog overs, and he was exactly the balance a top-heavy, famous batting line-up needed.
THE MIDDLE ORDER
As of now, Sachin Baby and Stuart Binny (yes, that man Binny) form the ‘explosive’ middle order of the strongest batting line-up in the tournament. One way to look at it is that the captain may have never expected it to reach the likes of Binny very often, but it has, and the enigmatic all-rounder has often failed in the middle. This, after Mandeep Singh, another youngster who hasn’t lived up to his billing, failed at the top as well as in the middle for the first half of the league.
Yuzvendra Chahal, their top leg spinner, has blown hot and cold this year. Adam Milne, their fastest bowler, hasn’t taken the wickets he was employed to take. Pawan Negi has been consistent, but not explosive enough. Samuel Badree hasn’t done much after his hat trick against Mumbai Indians. Sreenath Aravind doesn’t have the pace or the yorkers. If one expected the auction to change things with the selection of Tymal Mills, the ‘death specialist’ from England, it hasn’t – because the team hasn’t shown enough confidence to stick with him, and have preferred the spin of Badree instead.
With just four games to play for the team, they are mathematically in with the slightest of chances, but won’t really bother, and will hope to spoil a few other campaigns instead. Kohli will be disappointed with 2017. And he will already be dreaming about redeeming himself in England for the Champions Trophy.