In Focus: Royal Challengers Bangalore

The world of sports offers many paradoxes. Take the case of Manchester United who have struggled for on-field success in the last decade, but are raking in the moolah. A bit down the road, Liverpool continue to be the top shirt-selling brand even though their last domestic league success came nearly 30 years back. Along the same lines, from the world of cricket, the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) are sitting pretty at the top of the paradox pyramid.

One of the only three sides in the Indian Premier League (IPL) yet to win the title, the RCB boast a fan base that is second to none. It is still uncertain how RCB can command such unwavering loyalty. Aside from being the under-achievers, the RCB also slot seamlessly into being the glamorous side – both on and off the field. How do they manage that?

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Where it all started

When the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) conducted the auctions for the inaugural IPL teams, Bangalore got its chance thanks to its eccentric businessman owner Vijay Mallya. A successful bid of $111.6 million gave Mallya a chance to expand his empire. That was the second-highest bid for a team, only behind Reliance’s bid for the Mumbai Indians (MI).

Bangalore getting a team wasn’t a surprise – the city is the technology capital of India and boasts of many cricket aficionados. Mallya, the local-born flamboyant business owner, buying the franchise rights wasn’t a surprise either. However, RCB thinktank’s approach in laying the first bricks left all in shock and surprise.

Test Specialists & Jumbo revival

RCB made Rahul Dravid their iconic player for the inaugural edition. An Indian cricket stalwart and local hero, Dravid’s selection was on expected lines. However, the team that RCB assembled was a far cry from being a competent T20 squad. Dravid aside, the team had Wasim Jaffer, Sunil Joshi, Anil Kumble, Praveen Kumar, Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher, Ashley Noffke and Shivnarine Chanderpaul in its ranks. Even though T20 cricket was taking baby steps at that time, it was anybody’s guess how this ‘Test specialist team’ would fare.

Duly, the RCB failed to take off and finished second from bottom with just four wins out of 14 matches. The franchise snapped up hot-shot Kevin Pietersen for the second season naming him their skipper. Their fortunes didn’t change, however, with just two wins out of the first six. Another wooden spoon loomed but for the revival under Anil ‘Jumbo’ Kumble.

Kumble is inarguably India’s finest bowler of his era and one of the best competitors. That competitive streak got RCB back on track in the 2009 season, as Kumble took charge after Pietersen left for national duty. He led the side to a second-place finish. The RCB even managed a third-place finish in 2010 raising hopes of being the glamour team that they promised to be.

Kohli-de Villiers bond

The year 2011 changed RCB’s contours completely. The side retained only Virat Kohli and brought in Daniel Vettori, AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle, Tillakaratne Dilshan, and Saurabh Tiwary. Vettori led the side to second-placed finish, but it is the formation of a new bond between Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers that signalled a new era in RCB history.

Kohli was establishing himself as the biggest name in Indian cricket with consistent performances, while AB was leaving his legacy on world cricket. Together, they presented some of the most exciting and most destructive partnerships in the history of IPL. Kohli and de Villiers have posted five 100+ and two 200+ partnerships, which is the most by any pair. Needless to say, next time they are at the crease, back them to turn the screws and put on at least 50 runs for the Royal Challengers.

This period also coincided with Kohli donning the mantle for the RCB. He led them to third and second-place finishes in 2015 and 2016. Particularly, the 2016 season saw Kohli at his best. He was in monstrous form scoring 973 runs in 16 matches, at an average of 81.08. That tally remains the most by any individual player in a single IPL season. Not just that, Kohli scored four 100+ scores in that season, becoming the only player in IPL history to score four tons in a single season.

Poor auction = poor season

For all the firepower that they have, RCB have always remained an enigma. Their top-order batting is the envy of all other franchises. Any team would drool at the thought of having Gayle, Kohli, de Villiers, and Quinton de Kock being part of the side. Even this season roster includes Kohli, de Villiers, and Aaron Finch together with the likes of Chris Morris, Dale Steyn, Kane Richardson, and Yuzvendra Chahal.

Surely, this has to be a team that can be backed for the title? Unfortunately for the RCB, they have always struggled to balance the side. Starting with the auction, their player choices have always been doubtful. Be it stacking the side with all batsmen or going for only gun bowlers, RCB have always botched their auction strategy.

Does this make them an outsider for the title? Like Kohli showed in the 2016 season, an individual or two can only lift the team to the playoffs. For a side to win the title, it needs an entire team to punch its weight. Betting on RCB to win the title looks heavily skewed and very risky. Backing Kohli to be their best batsman of the season looks a worthy pick, though.

The new season has brought a new logo and a new tagline for the Royal Challengers. There are even reports that a new name would be given to the franchise, although that hasn’t been the case so far. Like an average RCB fan would say – anything for an IPL title! 

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