The pathos of RCB’s free fall
There’s a definite allure to the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Maybe it’s got to do with the fact that they’ve given the IPL some of the most memorable batting displays, hitting their peak when they had Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli forming a devastating trio. Or maybe it’s their fans who love the franchise unconditionally, churning out full-house after full-house no matter what the result. The chants of “RCB, RCB” at the Chinnaswamy don’t need a prompt. They happen when RCB is going well, when RCB isn’t going well, and even when RCB isn’t allowed to play, like in the Ranji Trophy semi-final earlier this year.
There’ve been six different IPL teams who have won the title in the 11 editions so far. RCB isn’t one of them, despite entering the final on three separate occasions. Every year it’s Ee sala Cup namde,until the next year. Every year there’s hope, as if a different calendar will make their bowling worries go away magically. That they won’t matter anymore. But they’ve mattered every time. And with the calendar in 2019, they’ve mattered like never before.
It was both surprising and understandable, when Kohli announced an unchanged XI against the Delhi Capitals. Surprising because he persisted with the bowling attack that couldn’t not have been devastated by Andre Russell’s mad assault from a couple of nights back. Understandable because there’s no one on the bench that he could have called upon to sort out the death bowling woes. And so RCB, with all of their five straight defeats, hoped against hope, just like their fans.
Ahead of the match, there were two pitches looking match-ready, side by side. One was brown, on which the previous match as well as the India-Australia T20I had been played, both producing run-fests. And next to it was the one which caught the eye with the grass on it. Were RCB going to change the rules to somehow bring their bowlers into the game, and rely on a much superior batting lineup?
Come match day though, much of the grass had been shaved off. Yet, there was movement and the bounce was spongy, evidenced by Parthiv Patel getting beaten three straight balls in a row to start the match. The cutters were stopping and gripping, and the spinners were getting purchase. So even with a score of 149 after being put into bat, RCB were in the game.
The RCB faithful were too afraid to say it, but when Shikhar Dhawan went for a first-ball duck, they sensed a turnaround. But that sense, the little sliver of it, was wiped off only three balls later when Parthiv Patel dropped Shreyas Iyer. No, this wasn’t going to be a turnaround. It was going to be proper RCB.
They had mistakes in the field, some of which were just inexplicable, even in the first over itself. Like why Yuzvendra Chahal, the culprit of allowing Iyer to get off the mark with a boundary, was standing at cover-point in the first place, only to be removed the very next ball. Mohammed Siraj, who could’ve only gone upwards in the field after the KKR match did so, but not without an embarrassing misjudgement of bounce at the third man boundary as the ball vaulted up over him from the practice pitches. And the best one was when Pant struck a fierce cut through to the cover boundary off Chahal, with Kohli looking baffled as to why Akshdeep Nath was standing so square, as if by his own accord.
And so Delhi, even with a late wobble, walked the chase that could’ve been so very different on a Chinnaswamy pitch that wasn’t a belter.
“At the moment, it is very frustrating for us, as cricketers,” Moeen Ali said after RCB went 0-6. “We are doing the right things during our training, the coaches are giving everything we need and there out on the field, we are nervous at times and may be a little bit under pressure also. The mood in the camp is fine, but just frustrating as we are making the same mistakes almost every game, dropping catches, giving wickets away. You cannot afford to do that in the IPL and we know that we have to win all the (remaining) games. It is going to be a miracle.”
After Andre Russell stole the win the other night, numerous RCB fans left the stadium chanting “CSK, CSK”. Today, there weren’t as many left when the chase was completed. But the majority of them still cheered the late wickets as if DC were going to blow a chase with 5 runs needed off two overs, with five wickets in hand. They believed.