Royal Challengers Bangalore's worst nightmare came true in front of a substantial Sunday crowd at home: The one weak link in this team, its bowling, was not good enough to defend a competitive total on a good batting surface.
This terrible indictment of its bowling bodes ill considering that RCB has to play five more matches at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, their so-called fortress. The RCB squad and the Chinnaswamy Stadium were supposed to be made for each other. A firm pitch, and a fast and relatively small outfield were supposed to be force multipliers for the home team's set of brilliant power hitters. Their strategy is simple enough: Clobber the opposition bowlers and outgun their batting.
But where things went awry on Sunday was with the execution. Three of RCB's big guns — skipper Virat Kohli (79 off 48 balls), AB de Villiers (55 in 33) and Shane Watson (33 in 19) came good. But RCB's familiar failing of the past, the inability of its later order batsmen to sustain the momentum provided by the top order, came back to haunt them. The final four overs were a damp squib as RCB added a mere 27 runs during this match-defining period.
Kedar Jadav and David Weise, in particular, struggled to work the ball off the square. Worse, an in-form rampaging Kohli was stuck at the non-striker's end for most of the 17th over, decidedly the moment when Delhi were able to claw their way back into the match.
But despite that, a total of 191 would have been impregnable at most grounds. But here, with a lightweight bowling attack hardly making a dent, Delhi's South African player Quinton de Kock seized the moment to smash a belligerent 51-ball 108 to floor RCB.
There were many side-plays at work from the start. Rahul Dravid, DD's mentor is a Bengaluru hero, but was hardly cheered by the home crowd. The partisan crowd also ignored Karun Nair (54 not out off 42 balls), another local boy whose 134-run third wicket partnership with de Kock took the match away from RCB. Karun had starred in many a stirring Ranji Trophy win for Karnataka, but hardly elicited a cheer on Sunday.
On the other hand, RCB skipper Kohli, a Delhi man, who has a record aggregate of 1,653 runs at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, the highest for any T20 batsman at a single ground, was given a rousing applause for anything he did, bat or field. The crowd wore its heart on its sleeve and made no bones about it. It all RCB or nothing for them. While Dravid might have experienced such a "home" reception before, it was a bewildering moment for young Karun. There were more jeers than cheers when he raised his bat upon completing his 50th run!
Late into the night, at a packed press conference after the match, Kohli said the loss coming so early in the campaign wasn't all that bad. "It's very easy to get carried away by the sort of team we have. But we needed to be game-aware, because in this format the match can slip away from you all too easily; like it did today," he said, even as he acknowledged the inability of his batsmen to finish well.
RCB would now be on the road for their next four matches — against tough opponents in Mumbai, Pune, Gujarat and Hyderabad. They need to urgently look at their bowling attack. Barring Watson, the others looked pedestrian. Weise was a great disappointment and de Kock and Karun hammered him at will.
Left arm pacer Sreenath Arvind looked extremely nervous to start with. He was returning to competitive cricket after a long layoff and it showed, particularly at the beginning when de Kock was looking to belt the leather off the ball.
Delhi's clever use of a left-right batting combination also threw the home team bowlers off their line.
But it was not all gloom for RCB. The fact that they have run huge totals in two successive matches despite little or no contribution from "universe boss" Chris Gayle is the silver lining which speaks well for the batting unit. When Gayle does come to the party, as he surely will going by his track record, there will be hell to pay for the opponents.