Virat Kohli’s voice almost choked. He had a forced smile on his face, trying too hard while talking to Ian Bishop on air but the mind was at a distant place. “I have tried my best to create a culture here where youngsters could come in and play with freedom and belief. I have given my best. I don't know how the response has been, but I have given 120% to this franchise every time, which is something I will now do as a player.”
Nine seasons, Zero Trophy, but a million memories. It has intruded his melancholic dream, like picking at the scabs of a wound that refuses to heal. But Virat Kohli marches on. Moves to another corner and greets all the KKR players and indulges himself in a long chat with Shubman Gill. While a million RCB fans rolled their eyes over, trying to sympathize, others were having their moment of schadenfreude.
Questions have been posed for over a decade now. How else could a team with the most talented batsman of our times, the best batsman of our times, and the most destructive T20 batsman of all time fail? How else could a fan flog his hopes back to life year after year? And that’s why the 2021 season hurts for an RCB fan. It was a year they let go of the laggards tag and ran away with the momentum initially. Many punts worked and they seemed like a really balanced unit. But eventually, cricket is a game of who blinks first and RCB are now the first team to have been eliminated among the teams who made it to the playoffs.
The Final Finish
The Virat Kohli-led side, riding on the momentum of the first half, finished third on the points table. They could have been second but the NRR difference pushed them backward in the UAE leg where none of their batters, barring Glenn Maxwell, could use the slowness of the surface to maximum effect.
Not making many changes
RCB often are guilty of making too many changes to their side and many former players have called that as the major reason of insecurity. However, in 2021, they were mostly stable. In 14 league encounters, they made just 17 changes to their playing XI, which is 1.2 per match. A few of the changes were forced ones, because of the injuries to the players or unavailability of their overseas players post the break. As a matter of fact, this was the lowest changes per match RCB have made in the last six years. The consistency reaped dividends with players getting more chances to prove their worth and eventually, succeeding as well.
Improvement in the spin game
With Glenn Maxwell’s injection, RCB bolstered their middle-order and it also helped that they could take the advantage of attacking spinners right from the outset. In fact, RCB were the second-best side in the league phase of the IPL 2021, with a run-rate of 7.6, which is only bettered by CSK’s 8.1. Even though Virat Kohli and Devdutt Padikkal took their own time to settle down at the top, ABD and Maxwell ensured that they weren't left behind. It is purely ironical they were exposed in front of KKR spinners on the Eliminator game to bow out of the championship.
The Big Show
Year after year, Glenn Maxwell returned to IPL, with the hope of recreating his 2014 magic but never materialized. Till he found a spiritual home at RCB, where he teamed up with Kohli and ABD to form a lethal batting order. With 513 runs from 15 matches, Maxwell did everything he could to help RCB. To imagine, he did that at an average of 42.75 and a strike rate of 144.10 makes it worthwhile for his side.
The death over heroics
As Aakash mentioned in his copy, since the inception of the tournament, RCB’s Achilles’ heels have been their death bowling. Despite picking up 457 wickets, they have conceded runs at 10.1, third-worst in the tournament’s history. However, they were the best bowling unit this season and had the most wickets and the best economy in the death bowling phase this season. Harshal Patel, specifically, took the IPL by storm by bagging six three-wicket hauls and finishing the season with 32 wickets - the joint highest for a bowler in any IPL.
What didn’t work
The slow starters
Padikkal scored over 400 runs and Kohli scored 405 runs in 15 innings at an average of 28.9. However, their runs came at a strike rate of 125.30 and 119.46 respectively, ensuring RCB middle-order bats had to go crazy right from the outset. The extra pressure forced them to play an extra batter in the middle-order and with Daniel Christian failing as a batter, it didn’t help the cause at all.
Dire season for Dan Christian
Christian couldn’t just get off the block. He scored a total of mere 14 runs in 7 innings, and even though, his bowling was decent, it could hardly compensate. RCB kept on believing in him and he kept on disappointing. With middle order failing, when the franchise wanted him to step up on Monday night, Christian scored his highest score of the IPL - 9 - and therein dies RCB’s hopes of making it to the qualifier.
Kohli is sure to be retained and RCB might keep Maxwell as well. While the future of de Villiers is uncertain, leaving Harshal and Mohammed Siraj to the auction pool will be a self-defeating move. Yuzvendra Chahal might have lost some of his edges but he is too good a bowler in the format. RCB will be tempted to have him back with the RTM card.