Flamboyance is no substitute for toughness – that is the big takeaway from the match between Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) on Sunday. Rock star cricketers may provide glitter to the profile of a side, but when it comes to the crunch, it is the good old fighting spirit that counts.
To put it uncharitably, the Royal Challengers lacked the fight. It is not that low scores have not been defended earlier, but the quality of contest was never as miserable before. There have been at least ten occasions in IPL’s history when sub-132 scores have been defended. But the opposition caving in meekly in a fashion that has happened only a couple of times in the past – one in 2011 when Kochi Tuskers Kerala folded up at 74 chasing Deccan Charger’s 129; the other in 2009 when King’s XI Punjab lost to Chennai Super Kings chasing a total of 116. The former scored 92.
It was abject capitulation. And imagine a grand total of 49 coming from a batting line-up that includes Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, all of whom count as greats in this format of the game.
How often does a team last for only 9.4 overs in a T20 match? It points to something seriously amiss in Virat Kohli’s team: sense of application. Five losses in seven matches so far highlight the point.
From the look of it, a target of 132 runs at 6.6 runs per over is easy in a format where eight plus is the normal. But low-scoring matches bring their own challenges. The very fact that a strong team sets such a low target should itself be sending warning bells ringing in the opponent. One obvious conclusion is that the pitch does not facilitate free scoring and caution is required in chase. Thus aggressive instincts need to be curtailed and the approach should switch to the Test and One-day mode.
None of it was visible in the approach of the RCB batters. With his technique, Chris Gayle is not best batsman under bowling-friendly conditions. His weakness was exposed as he struggled during his 17-ball stay. The others, including Kohli, AB de Villiers and Kedar Yadav, could have been more circumspect, accumulating runs in ones and twos rather than going for big hits. This was not the case. Had the team focused on playing out the 20 overs, it could have looked more respectable in defeat. The margin would have been much less than 82 runs.
That brings us back to the matter of application. The trend in IPL so far reveals, settled teams tend to perform better than teams the composition of which is in a state of flux. It shows in the performance of Mumbai Indians, Kolkata Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad. The players in these teams gel together better and are clearer about their roles. The application reflects in the way they go about their roles. The response changes according to the situation of the match at given points.
Curiously, despite having a settled team, the Royal Challengers have failed in this respect. The accent perhaps is too much on playing thrilling cricket than winning matches in a calculated way. Of course, their bowling remains the team’s Achilles heel. But their formidable batting should be covering that up. We haven’t seen much of that. The seriousness in approach is missing.
Sunday’s match is a pointer to why a combination of great players does not necessarily make a great team. With the tournament going badly for the team, Kohli and company should re-think their approach. The score of 49 surely does not reflect the true potential of the team but it has to get it act together and get some fight into its system. Quickly that is.