Looking to go one better

RCB players are ready to ride to the top... (from left) Virat Kohli, S. Aravind, T. Dilshan and Chris Gayle.-PTI RCB players are ready to ride to the top... (from left) Virat Kohli, S. Aravind, T. Dilshan and Chris Gayle.

If the first-step serves as an omen then Royal Challengers Bangalore had the worst of the inception-blues. RCB played the inaugural match of the Indian Premier League in 2008 and got whipped by a Brendon McCullum-inspired Kolkata Knight Riders at Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Stadium.

Since then, RCB has shrugged aside its diffidence and is right up there among the league’s most consistent teams. The welcome infusion of key players like Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers, has enhanced the squad’s potency. Two runner-up finishes in the league’s five-year history, is an ample reflection of RCB’s steady progress and it is welcome news indeed for owner Vijay Mallya, besieged as he is on other business fronts.

Ahead of the latest edition, two changes have occurred in the team’s structure. Virat Kohli, labelled as “future captain” over the last few years by coach Ray Jennings, has now been named as the skipper. Kohli did step into the hot-seat last year when regular leader Daniel Vettori was rested but to be heralded as captain ahead of a fresh season fits in well into the youngster’s impressive resume.

The other significant change is the exit of chief-mentor Anil Kumble who has moved over to the Mumbai Indians camp. The calm presence of Kumble in the RCB dugout would have been an ideal foil to Kohli’s occasional tempestuous streak but the expected partnership did not materialise.

Kohli and Jennings have rapid-fire batting arsenal at their disposal thanks to Gayle, Tillakaratne Dilshan and de Villiers. The captain, incidentally RCB’s leading run-scorer (1639), too can turn on the heat but the truth is that the team has tended to lean heavily on Gayle’s shoulders. The belligerent opener, with 1341 runs at an average of 63.85 and strike-rate of 170.17, has lived up to the expectations though he did fail in the 2011 final against Chennai Super Kings.

Among the rest, de Villiers has played his part while also donning the wicket-keeping gloves and Cheteshwar Pujara too is awaiting his turn.

RCB’s main worries, however, will revolve around its bowling as its spearhead Zaheer Khan is slowly coming back from injuries. The presence of sons-of-the-soil — R. Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun — along with Caribbean inductee Ravi Rampaul besides senior spinners like Vettori, Muttiah Muralitharan and Murali Kartik, are all expected to shore up the attack that has an adroit bowling coach in Venkatesh Prasad.

In the coming weeks, RCB has an opportunity to alter its so-near-yet-so-far tales of the past while Kohli can reiterate his leadership credentials.

K. C. Vijaya Kumar