Royal Challengers Bangalore - IPL's 'Galacticos' seek end to title drought
That Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers have zero titles amongst them remains one of the biggest anomalies of the Indian Premier League. Perhaps, the closest sporting parallel to the Royal Challengers Bangalore narrative over the past eight years is found in the infamous 'Galacticos' project from Florentino Perez's first tenure as president of Real Madrid football club - superstar players, impeccable pedigree with a nagging lack of stability and team balance.
If the presence of the aforementioned troika wasn't intimidating enough, Royal Challengers Bangalore splashed nine and a half crores (INR) in the 2016 auction to procure the services of another IPL powerhouse - Shane Watson. Ironically, a player whose then flagging in international career was revived by a gig with a 'Royal' franchise is now entrusted with revitalising the fortunes of another, this time with his international career behind him.
After their runs to the final in 2009 and 2011, RCB enjoyed, arguably their next best season in 2015, where they finished third, behind only Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings. Yet, even a third-place campaign left a lot to be desired and that in itself speaks volumes about the team's potential.
Heading into the 2016 season, Royal Challengers Bangalore have, in their roster, the format's top-ranked (international) batsman (Kohli), bowler (Samuel Badree) and allrounder (Watson). However, things haven't been all rosy for the brains behind the team. Mitchell Starc, the lead pacer who took 20 wickets at an economy of 6.76 last year, is undergoing rehabilitation for an ankle injury and is all but ruled out of the tournament. Badree, one of the stars of West Indies' triumphant World T20 campaign, has a shoulder injury and his participation, especially during the first stage of the league, appears doubtful. The team management is yet to seek replacements for the injured.
There are changes off the field, too. Vijay Mallya, the flamboyant owner of the franchise, is no longer part of the team's management. Perhaps, a new backroom could serve to freshen things up just that tad bit.
Strengths - A top-order that is the envy of every T20 side
How can anything go wrong with a top four of Gayle, Watson, Kohli and de Villiers? But on the implausible occasions of a collective failure, RCB have a more-than-useful middle-order to call upon. Mandeep Singh and Sarfaraz Khan sizzled and played their roles to perfection at crucial junctures last season. In Kedar Jadhav, Kohli also has a wicketkeeper with a propensity to play the handy slogs lower down the order.
Weaknesses - A patched-up bowling attack-sans Starc
Bowling has perennially been RCB's Achilles heel, particularly on the smallish M Chinnaswamy Stadium, and Starc's injury severely blights their attack. It is essentially a double loss, that of a strike-at-the-top bowler and a death overs yorker specialist.
His absence could result in a straight toss up between Adam Milne and Kane Richardson for the fast bowler and fourth foreign player's slot. Kohli could also play South African allrounder David Wiese and partner Sreenath Arvind with a host of medium-pace allrounders - Watson, Wiese and Stuart Binny. The mighty impressive Harayan legspinner Yuzuvendra Chahal and Iqbal Abdulla have done well in the tournament in the past and give the captain useful spinning options to fall back on.
Local Talent and Home Advantage
While RCB's superstar players have evoked awe and admiration from the team's doting fans, over the years, there have been grumblings over the seeming lack of players picked up from the Karnataka catchment area. This season, the team features three members of the state's two-time domestic treble winning teams - Binny, Arvind and KL Rahul. That ought to bring even the few begrudging supporters to the stadium. The team, though, is yet to make the Chinnaswamy a complete fortress like some of the more successful teams in IPL have done. They weren't helped last season with unseasonal rainfall in the city causing several truncated clashes.
The Kohli factor
When Bangalore picked up Kohli, a promising Under-19 player, in the inaugural season in 2008, even they would not have hoped for such a massive reward in return. In the nine years since, the Delhi player has emerged to become the most-recognizable face in the game and amongst the best batsmen of the generation. His batting exploits in the World T20 were otherworldly and the Bangalore clan would dearly hope that their skipper can now translate that individual success into a successful campaign for the team.
The pressure of expectation
Despite the wealth of experience at their disposal, Bangalore have, so far, failed to capitalise on the truly crucial moments of an IPL season. To be one of only three teams that played the first season in 2008 yet to win the title has often weighed them down in the past. With every passing year and every big-money signing, the expectation to break the duck has only increased. Perhaps, like the team said at the launch of their new jersey - "this year could be our year".
Stuart Binny: Binny comes to his 'home franchise' with his career at a crossroad. Barely months ago, he was the lone-answer to India's persistent demands for a medium-pace bowling allrounder. The 31-year-old has since been usurped by Hardik Pandya in the T20I side and faces severe competition to push his case. After a breakthrough season in 2013 with Rajasthan Royals, Binny has had two rather quiet IPLs. If Binny can help solve RCB's balance crisis with all-round contributions, he could be knocking on the national team doors once again.
AB de Villiers: De Villiers' comments late last year, on issues of player workload, remuneration and quitting Test cricket raised several eyebrows in the cricketing fraternity. By his lofty standards, the first few months of 2016 have been rather unproductive, including a lacklustre showing in the World T20. The South African talisman returns to the source of the now-common 'A...B...D' chants, where he is likely to get more clarity to his dilemma.
WHAT THEY SAID
You look at the teams that have been successful in the IPL so far - Chennai Super Kings with the likes of Ravindra Jadeja, Suresh Raina and Dwayne Bravo and Kolkata Knight Riders as well have had them with Shakib Al Hasan. So we're banking on the fact that we have six or seven bowling options. As everyone knows, the Chinnaswamy is a tough place to bowl at so to give ourselves those options is very important - Former captain Daniel Vettori, now head coach, believes the presence of all-rounders adds more depth and balance to the side.
Virat Kohli (c), Chris Gayle, Shane Watson, AB de Villiers, Mandeep Singh, Sarfaraz Khan, Stuart Binny, Kedar Jadhav, David Wiese, Yuzuvendra Chahal, Varun Aaron, Sreenath Arvind, Adam Milne, Kane Richardson, Travis Head, Iqbal Abdulla, KL Rahul, Abu Nechim, Harshal Patel, Vikas Tokas, Akshay Karnewar, Praveen Dubey, Sachin Baby, Vikramjeet Malik, Samuel Badree(!), Mitchell Starc (!).
(!) - Fitness permitting.