Even as the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) slipped to their 10th defeat on Sunday, their inability to mount a serious challenge – despite qualifying for the playoffs in two consecutive Indian Premier League (IPL) seasons – has caught fans by surprise.
After all, this was a team packed with superstars; and yet, a Sandeep Sharma with the ball and Sunil Narine with the bat had outsmarted RCB on home turf in back-to-back matches. Narine had outstanding credentials as a limited overs bowler. But as a batsman? His sensational exhibition of clean striking left RCB fans in shock and awe on Sunday.
Likewise, on Friday, Sharma, not one of the best fast bowlers around, grabbed all the big three RCB wickets and ensured that they could not get to chase down even a modest target of 139.
In fact, considering that the real successes this season have been relatively lesser known players like Krunal Pandya, his brother Hardik, Rahul Tripathi, Rishab Pant, Nitesh Rana, Siddharth Kaul, et al, the belief is that RCB have not been as smart with their auction buys as some of the other franchises.
Of course, RCB’s strategy right from the launch of IPL had been to bank on superstars. Except for the first couple of seasons, when they picked what was derisively referred to as a "Test team", they quickly discarded the "Test" names and instead settled for big names they could align with the franchise holder’s other brand interests.
The fact that India has banned advertisements of liquor products, and yet allowed promotion of these brands in different ways came in handy for RCB’s stakeholders. The team name itself was a subtle promotion of one of the brands.
When RCB splurged big money to get hold of international cricket’s superstars – Kevin Pieterson, Yuvraj Singh, Tilakratne Dilshan, Dale Steyn, Jacques Kallis, Mitchell Starc, et al – their erstwhile supremo, Vijay Mallya, described the purchases as "ideal for aligning with a particular brand or acquisition."
Unfortunately, many of the expensive auction purchases did not really help RCB in improving its on-field performance.
RCB’s new owners, too, quickly realised that they had a great vehicle to promote their brand and went to the extent of changing RCB’s colours to Black and Red, in line with two of their worldwide famous liquor brands. It was expected to be a subconscious recall of these brands.
The marketing and branding strategies of RCB apart, it is the performance on the cricketing field that is paramount to cricket fans. The team, of course, had Virat Kohli, one of the biggest names in world cricket.
His extraordinary batting last season, when he smashed four centuries in his record aggregate of 973 runs, took the IPL world by storm. RCB missed the title by a proverbial whisker. Kohli was expected to be just as emphatic this season and hence the team management went about shoring the bowling attack.
Thus, England’s Tymal Mills was a massive buy while the return to fitness of Samuel Badree was expected to provide a further boost. But the batting, focused on the big guns – Kohli, Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Shane Watson – flopped big time.
RCB had not invested sufficiently in good potential Indian players and this lapse hit them very hard when the stars flopped. Sunday was no different. Maybe a KL Rahul could have made a difference. But that’s in the realm of speculation. The fact is, with a focus so excessively on big names and big brands, RCB simply did not pack enough firepower in the form of local talent.
This was emphasised on Sunday when, after the dismissal of Mandeep Singh, there was no support for a rampaging Travis Head. Kedar Jadhav and Pawan Negi struggled to play big shots in the closing overs and thus, despite Head hammering 16 runs off the last three balls, RCB scored just 158.
The target looked decent, till Sunil Narine (54 of 17 balls; 4x6, 6x4) and Chris Lynn (50 of 22b; 4x6, 5x4) epitomised what pinch-hitting was all about, by rattling an incredible 105 runs in the six powerplay overs.
The bowling which had held up pretty well for most of the season thus went the way of the batting. The good news is that RCB have just one match in hand, against a slightly better placed Delhi Daredevils.
Updated Date: May 08, 2017 11:03 AM