No team that can flaunt the world’s best batsman across all formats as its most invaluable asset can be a pushover. Certainly not when led by the very passionate and fiercely competitive Virat Kohli.
Yet, despite his presence, Royal Challengers Bangalore have been the eternal bridesmaid, never the bride. They have huffed and puffed through the IPL, season after season, without once wrapping their hands on the coveted trophy. Could this, the 12th edition of the event, be any different?
There is little doubt that RCB who made the championship match thrice in the past, want to pocket the title at the earliest, when the matchless Kohli is still in his prime. Thusly, this year, they have taken drastic steps to realise that dream.
Not only have they sacked coach Daniel Vettori and brought in South African Gary Kirsten in his place, they have also got rid of 10 of the players who did not pull their weight last season. This was the clearest indication that they were not in for the ride, but had greater ambitions and glory in mind.
RCB ruthlessly let go laggards Sarfaraz Khan, Chris Woakes, Brendon McCullum, Quinton de Kock, Corey Anderson, M Ashwin, Mandeep Singh, Manan Vohra, Anirudh Joshi, and Pavan Deshpande.
The team identified paucity of batting muscle in the middle order and an indifferent bowling unit, especially its death overs bowling, as their Achilles heel and went about strengthening them. Thus two of their most notable signings are West Indies’ talented 22-year-old batsman Shimron Hetmyer and Aussie fast bowling all-rounder Nathan Coulter-Nile.
The left-handed Hetmyer slammed a brilliant unbeaten 104 against England in the recently concluded ODI series to underscore that he’d be a long term asset for RCB. Besides, he has had tremendous success in Indian pitches and that should immediately benefit the franchise.
The other signing expected to make an impact, Coulter-Nile, is a battle-hardened cricketer. He was snapped up by RCB last year itself, but withdrew from IPL owing to injury. His place was taken by the Kiwi Corey Anderson. But now with Coulter-Nile back in the fray, RCB should stand to gain substantially from his death overs bowling and belligerent late middle-order batting.
Coulter Nile’s fellow Aussie, Marcus Stoinis too has been snapped up by RCB. He is a powerful striker of the ball and could change the course of a match in a space of a few overs. He also chips in nicely with his seam-up bowling. It would be interesting to see if he opens the batting with Kohli. That would cause some issues of balance as only four foreigners are permitted in the playing eleven. But a top-order batting line-up of Kohli, Stoinis, AB de Villiers, Hetmyer would be absolutely spectacular.
Of course, there are a number of domestic all-rounders who could vie with one another for berths in the middle order. These include the hard-hitting left-hander Shivam Dube who also bowls right-arm seam; Washington Sundar, another left-hand batsman and right arm off spinner and Gurkeerat Singh Mann who, like Sundar had played for India in white-ball cricket.
Additionally, wicket-keeper Parthiv Patel, Tim Southee, and Umesh Yadav are also capable of striking a few hefty blows which could be the icing on the RCB cake.
Actually, this team is far better placed than any of its predecessors in terms of all-round strength. It has terrific bench strength in the form of Moeen Ali, Colin de Grandhomme for both pace and spin all-rounders; wicket-keeper cum-batsman Heinrich Klaasen and of course some serious Indian bowling options in Pawan Negi, Navdeep Saini, Kulwant Khejroliya. They would come in handy if some players were pulled out by their respective countries in their preparation for the World Cup.
Already, Coulter-Nile and Stoinis are unavailable till April 1 as they are in the Australian team to battle Pakistan in five ODIs in UAE (March 22 to 31). They will thus miss the first three of RCB’s matches-- against CSK, MI, and SRH.
Of course, there will be a lot of curiosity centred around the talented teenage Karnataka opener Devdutt Padikkal but the lad who could set the stands on fire if and when he plays is the tall, 16-year-old Bengal leg spinner Prayas Ray Barman. He bowls flat and fast and it would be quite a sight to see him and Yuzvendra Chahal operating in tandem.
The impressive aspect of this RCB team is that they have serious pace bowling options in Southee, Coulter-Nile, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Siraj and Navdeep Saini with the left arm pacer Khejroliya as back-up. The spin department too seems to be well represented in the form of Chahal, Moeen Ali, Sundar, Gurkeerat, Negi, Sundar, and young Barman. Whichever way one tends to see this team, in top order batting, middle order muscle, new ball bowling or spin bowling there is greater depth and variety than any time before.
Last season RCB failed to qualify for the second phase of the tournament by just two points. Hopefully, Kohli and the brains trust of RCB have ensured that their choice of players this season has all the bases covered. Now it is just a question of the execution of plans. The mix of youth and experience is just the shot in the arm that RCB badly needed. The next few weeks would be a testimony to the faith reposed in them.
The RCB team of 2019: Virat Kohli (skipper), AB de Villiers, Parthiv Patel (Wk), Yuzvendra Chahal, Umesh Yadav, Tim Southee, Navdeep Saini, Kulwant Khejroliya, Washington Sundar, Pawan Negi, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Moeen Ali, Mohammed Siraj, Colin de Grandhomme, Shimron Hetmyer, Devdutt Padikkal, Shivam Dube, Heinrich Klassen, Gurkeerat Singh, Himmat Singh, Prayas Ray Barman
Head coach: Gary Kirsten