Yet another Indian Premier League season passes and the signs are ominous for Royal Challengers Bangalore ahead of the next season.
A poor start with some close games deflated the RCB bandwagon right at the start as they found themselves on the wrong side of the result in the opening six games.
At the auction earlier this year, Virat Kohli and co would have been quietly confident with the addition of exciting Indian prospects (Shivam Dubey, Akshdeep Nath, and Prayas Ray Burman) as well as a couple of imports (Marcus Stoinis and Shimron Hetmyer).
But as has been the trend with every passing season, key failures at crucial junctures have been the story of the season, leaving the RCB faithful wondering what could have been, for yet another campaign.
It was the rain gods that drove the final nail in RCB’s coffin on Tuesday with their ‘mathematical’ chances of qualifying for the Play-offs ironically going up in smokes after the game against Rajasthan Royals was washed out.
On Saturday, the home side will have nothing but pride to play for, while for the Sunrisers Hyderabad, they will need a win at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium to boost their hopes of qualifying to the last four.
RCB will want to put on a show for their fans who display unconditional support for the side and with SRH’s poor track record at the Bengaluru stadium, it definitely will be a great opportunity to sign off on a high, while playing party pooper.
One serious threat RCB will have to contend with comes in the shape of Manish Pandey. The Karnataka batsman has found a timely purple patch – with the departure of David Warner and Jonny Bairstow – and familiarity of the venue will aid the Orange Army.
The SRH think tank made a fantastic decision to move Pandey up to number three in the batting order, bringing out the best from him.
Prior to batting up the order, Pandey was having a dismal IPL having managed just 54 runs from five innings at a strike rate of 93.10. His numbers have been phenomenal accentuated in the last four games, where he has played one drop, cementing his position as Kane Williamson’s side’s batting mainstay.
There is no doubt that he will be key to getting a positive result on Saturday and what will help further are RCB’s woes in different departments. Considering Pandey struggles against left-arm orthodox at Chinnaswamy scoring at run-a-ball, Pawan Negi will be someone tasked with putting the skids on SRH.
Something Bangalore struggled with last season was their bowling at the death. Umesh Yadav was tasked with spearheading the pace battery and was prolific at the top of the innings but towards the fag end, his performances were nothing short of shambolic. That effected the team performance on a whole with RCB being the most expensive side between overs 16 and 20.
A statistic as glaring as that usually prompts a team to make wholesale changes but Kohli and head coach Gary Kirsten didn’t tinker a whole lot with the squad, something that has come back to haunt them.
Nathan Coulter-Nile was expected to step in as specialist death bowler before the Aussie pulled out with a stiff back. Navdeep Saini has been the only bright spot with Umesh (11.77) and Mohammed Siraj (10.19) going for plenty yet again.
Kohli and AB de Villiers are two of the finest athletes the game has seen and teams they are a part of pride themselves on the effort they produce on the field in every aspect. Fielding is something Kohli prides himself on as the rest of his team will know as well, when they face his wrath for any lacklustre effort in the field.
This season, the RCB skipper has no one but himself to blame having dropped four catches. He shares the ignominy with Bairstow, both of whom are only behind Jofra Archer, who has dropped five.
RCB on a whole have dropped maximum catches this season (20) with a game to go, when compared to 15 drops last season. This is a crucial aspect that has hurt the Challengers on many occasions.
It is a must-win fixture for the Sunrisers and they will come out all guns blazing but with nothing to lose and the home support firmly behind them, RCB will be a force to reckon with.
RCB: Parthiv Patel, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Marcus Stoinis, Gurkeerat Mann, Colin de Grandhomme, Akshdeep Nath, Pawan Negi, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kulwant Khejroliya
SRH: Wriddhiman Saha, Martin Guptill, Manish Pandey, Kane Williamson, Vijay Shankar, Mohammad Nabi, Yusuf Pathan, Rashid Khan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Khaleel Ahmed, Sandeep Sharma