For a large part of the nine years of its existence, Royal Challengers Bangalore has been one of the IPL’s most watchable sides. Swashbuckling and popular, boisterous and electric, RCB has held its fans in thrall all along. But, through a combination of factors, the IPL trophy has remained elusive, one campaign after another ending in disappointment. Twice RCB reached the final — in 2009 and 2011 — but twice it lost.
“[For] so many years people have been saying that we’ve underperformed,” A.B. de Villiers told the IPL website earlier this week. “We always stumbled at the wrong time. [This year], we stumbled at the beginning, and are really in a good rhythm now.”
On Sunday, RCB has a chance to finally cast off that heavy burden of expectation, when it meets Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL final, before an adoring home crowd at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium here. At the halfway stage of the competition, RCB was second from bottom on the table, having lost five of seven games. A spot in the play-offs seemed beyond reach. Yet, three weeks later, Virat Kohli’s men became the first team to enter the final, having put together a run of seven wins in eight matches.
This resurrection has been dramatic, and thrilling to behold. There are echoes of Australia’s march to the title at the 1999 World Cup here, although the comparisons should end there. Kohli, who seems to simply care so much, has been an inspiration to his team-mates with his zeal and effort. He is 81 away from completing a thousand runs for the IPL season; it needs reminding that this is Twenty20 cricket. de Villiers has been continually brilliant, dragging the team home from a hopeless situation in the first Qualifier.
We stumbled at the beginning, and are really in a good rhythm now — AB de Villiers
To Kohli’s relief, RCB’s battered bowling group is finally showing a sense of control. The excellent Shane Watson and Yuzvendra Chahal have 20 wickets each. In Chris Jordan, the team has found a second reliable overseas bowler after going through Adam Milne (injured), David Wiese, Kane Richardson and Tabraiz Shamsi. RCB’s XI needs no selecting now, a situation unimaginable in the first month of the tournament.
RCB has the advantage of playing at home and has now had four days to recover from its exertions in the Qualifier. In contrast, the final will be Sunrisers’ third game in the space of five days. But, in David Warner, the team has a determined leader in raging form. The Australian has accumulated 779 runs in this campaign and would, in ordinary circumstances, have been on top of the pile. Kohli and he have now scored more runs than anyone in a single IPL season (beating Chris Gayle and Mike Hussey’s 733).
A rejuvenated Bhuvneshwar Kumar, custodian of the IPL’s Purple Cap (23 wickets), and Mustafizur Rahman have been instrumental in Sunrisers’ progress to the final. The Bangladesh bowler missed the Qualifier victory over Gujarat Lions with what Warner described as a ‘slight’ hamstring injury; should he not feature in the final, it will be a major blow. A great deal depends on Warner, but Shikhar Dhawan and Yuvraj Singh have made useful contributions too.
Both sides will acknowledge that their presence in the final, at the end of such a competitive season, is a triumph in itself. No matter who wins, the IPL will have a new champion on Sunday.
The weather: It rained heavily in the evening on Saturday. Scattered thunderstorms are forecast for Sunday too. There is a reserve day, just in case.
The pitch: Generally full of runs. For Qualifier 1, however, the KSCA rolled out what A. B. de Villiers called “a funny kind of wicket”, where scoring was not easy. Things are expected to return to normal.