Wednesday 24 May 2017 News Updated at 11:05 AM IST
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Madhu Jawali, DH News Service, - Deccan Herald
Madhu Jawali, DH News Service,
A forgettable season
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Disappointing: RCB's Virat Kohli had a below par season.
The Royal Challengers Bangalore’s journey in the decade-old Indian Premier League has come a full circle. They have ended (or rather would end it today) the first 10-year instalment of the pioneering T20 league pretty much the same way they did when it all started at their home ground - M Chinnaswamy Stadium - in 2008.

When the event kicked off 10 years ago amid much fanfare, not many teams knew how to approach the format. India, only a few a months earlier, had annexed the inaugural World T20 title and the shortest version of the game had caught the fancy of the Indian fans but still there was no well-defined formula to succeed in it. Some teams, however, did appear to have done their homework. Multiple champions Chennai Super Kings and inaugural winners Rajasthan Royals, both of whom are set to return next year after serving a two-year ban, had some plans in place in their choice of players and it reflected in the fact that both were the finalists in the first edition of the league.

There were other teams that clearly had missed a trick or two by reposing their faith in batsmen who had made more name in the longer format of the game. While the likes of Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis did go on to adapt to the abridged version and found more than reasonable success in the subsequent years, they were clearly out of their depths in the first edition along with Wasim Jaffer, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Mark Boucher. RCB finished just one spot above the bottom-placed erstwhile Deccan Chargers but at least they had the excuse of having players who didn’t quite possess the game that the format demanded then.

The current RCB team, which is set to finish at the bottom of the heap for the first time, can’t offer that as an alibi; certainly not when you have batsmen of the calibre of Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers in your ranks. Throw in another IPL stalwart Shane Watson and it’s a batting line-up to die for even without the injured KL Rahul. Only the previous year, the team had made the final mainly on the strength of these batsmen and especially Kohli and de Villiers, the top two run-getters for the Bengaluru outfit. Nobody saw it coming, least the players themselves.

"It’s very easy to get frustrated and point fingers when you are not doing well but I think we have embraced and accepted what has happened,” Kohli said recently. "We have tried to laugh it off at times. There have been situations that have been so helpless that we have come back to the change room laughing, thinking we could never think that we would experience something like this as a team. It can happen to one or two people, but all 11 thinking and feeling the same way, it’s very rare and something that is a big learning curve for all of us,” he reasoned.

So what went wrong so swiftly? Yes, they did have issues with injuries. While Rahul and Sarfaraz Khan had to miss the entire tournament, Kohli and de Villiers skipped the initial few games - with various fitness problems. But once Kohli and de Villiers returned to full action with more than half of their games still left, things ought to have changed for the better. Instead, they only got worse.

Between Kohli and de Villiers, they had plundered 1660 runs in 1047 balls at an average of almost 67 and a strike rate of 160.41 per hundred balls.

This season, they have managed a combined aggregate of 466 runs at 27.13 and strike rate of 126.64. With such massive dip in fortunes of these two, coupled with the steady decline of Gayle and an indifferent form of Watson, RCB had to endure their worst season ever. With the big guns failing to fire, the young Indian lot had to take charge and get noticed but almost all of them squandered the golden opportunity as the team saw the ignominy of being shot out for the lowest total in the history of IPL.

The regularity with which these batsmen failed was initially shocking but began to look bizarre after a while. One or two batsmen having a lean patch is understandable but when an entire batting group, with a reputation as big as the one RCB had, comes undone on such consistent basis, there is no cricketing explanation for that. Neither the changes in personnel nor shift in strategy seemed to work for them. Initially, they appeared to lack in intent for which they were repeatedly admonished by Kohli.

And when they actually looked to play without the fear of failure, they fared even worse!Bowling, their weak link in the past few seasons, surprisingly held more than its own but, in the absence of big runs, it couldn’t do much while defending. And whenever the opponents were restricted to gettable totals, the batsmen came unstuck during chases.

"It’s tough,” stressed Kohli on keeping the team motivated. "It’s not easy to pick yourself up after the kind of results that we have had but again, you have to draw a line in terms of asking the players to motivate themselves and take ownership of the team. At the same time, pushing the team forward in whatever way you can and pushing towards the result that you want. But it doesn’t always happen.

It is difficult, that’s when you expect the players who you believe are good enough at this level to step up and take ownership of the team. And that’s all you can really do in situations like these. There’s nothing extra you can do when things are not going right because it’s not going right for anyone,” he explained.

There is no clarity on how the league will shape up next year. There is some doubt over continuing the retention policy with some BCCI officials favouring the pooling of all the players back into the auction pool.

That said, there won’t be a tectonic shift, and that’s perhaps the reason why Kohli spoke of regrouping and performing well the next year for the team. And hopefully, they will enjoy a better season for it can’t get worse than this.