Never mind their start-stop performances in the 2018 Indian Premier League, Royal Challengers Bangalore have been a premium draw for fans wherever they have played. Full houses have greeted them at every stop, and for good reason, with Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers topping the draw-charts in their playing eleven.
It was no different on Monday night, as the packed Indore stadium bore witness to a Kohli-masterclass. Only this time, it wasn’t with the bat alone. This was a game where the all-round brilliance of the cricketer Kohli is came through. There was a gleam in his eyes that could be observed even on television sets. His expressions weren’t the usual normal tone; it was almost as if he was not in a fight for survival in the competition. Instead, Kohli was involved in a personal battle. This was a challenging game, and this was a win he wanted, badly, both as captain and batsman.
That last statement is, well, always true for Kohli. He is driven by an insane desire to win and score as many runs as possible. It is almost contagious to an extent that you feel like getting on the field and playing yourself. Imagine how this world-class athlete inspires those who actually play with him. For Royal Challengers Bangalore, mathematically the task couldn’t have been any tougher and given the spanking result, it is easy to see where their driving force came from.
The underlying point is that playing along with such a competitor shouldn’t be inspiration alone. Playing against him ought to burn your desire for success at a higher rate. When Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi face off in the El Clasico, there is an insane yet silent hunger to outdo each other. When you race against Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel, you need to be ‘in the zone’ for they will punish the slightest error on the race circuit. When you play Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, bring your A-game even if it won’t be enough on most days.
This is what world-class athletes do. They have this inherent ability to raise not only their game, but also elevate help yours to a point that perhaps never existed before. The only condition is that you should be ‘in the moment’ and ready enough to do so. You should be willing to give everything out there on the park when facing the likes of Kohli and de Villiers, and return to the grandstand as sweaty, bloodied warriors, even if defeated.
Can this last bit be said about Kings XI Punjab at a time of grave importance in this competition? No.
This was an opportunity for Chris Gayle to put weight behind his words about RCB not ‘retaining’ him. This was an opportunity for the likes of Karun Nair and Mayank Agarwal – both Bengaluru boys – to shrug off their inconsistencies and stand up against their ‘home’ team. This was an opportunity for skipper Ravichandran Ashwin to rub shoulders with the national captain and see who finished as the better leader, atleast on the day. None of the key protagonists put their hand up for Punjab at a time when it mattered.
There is one name missing therein, though. It is KL Rahul, who has been in a purple patch of form, single-handedly carrying Punjab in this second half of the season where they have failed to gather any momentum whatsoever. But there is a good reason why his comparative failure – 21 off 15 balls out of a total of 92 runs – isn’t marked out for criticism. There is only so much one man can do, and history is proof that a tournament like IPL cannot be won by individual exploits.
So, how do you pick yourself up after such a steamrolling defeat?
Well, the only positive emanating out of this ten-wicket spanking is that Kings XI Punjab are still masters of their own destiny. RCB can win all their remaining games, so can Mumbai Indians, but both those teams are dependent on how other results pan out. The same goes for both Rajasthan Royals and Kolkata Knight Riders, who face off in an epic clash on Tuesday at the Eden Gardens.
At worse, Punjab are now in the same boat as both Rajasthan and Kolkata. All three teams have two games remaining – win both and you are through. Win one, and you have to worry about net run rate and other results. Losing both is a possibility too, an unthinkable one for Kolkata and Punjab in particular, after their rich vein of form earlier in the season.
For Punjab, this has been a season of reversals. No one gave them a shot when the tournament began as they hit the reset button, yet they shot into prominence winning five out of their first six games. After the mid-season break, when they shifted base to Indore, they have managed one win in six games. That last bit of form is enough to dump any aspirants out of the knockouts’ race.
Perhaps their fall from grace is deeply rooted in mindless experimentation. Remember when things were going just fine, and the Punjab team management decided to change the batting order against Rajasthan (in Jaipur) for no reason? It has all been downhill since then.
The need of this hour has suddenly become dire for Punjab. They could have won this league, and they still can. All that is needed is some inspiration and back-to-the-wall siege-mentality. Too bad, they don’t have someone like Kohli in their ranks.