Perhaps, many among us can relate to the topsy-turvy ride of the RCB over the last one-and-a-half decades in the Indian Premier League (IPL) ― almost there but still not there. That sinking feeling can overwhelm you. Despite failing to reach the final of IPL 2022 and making their wait for a trophy seemingly endless, there is a beautiful lesson from the IPL maverick here, which shouldn’t be lost on anyone.
Only Chennai Super Kings (CSK) have lost more IPL finals (5) than Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) (3), and yet MS Dhoni’s side never got the tag of the chokers or the perennial under-achievers. There is a reason for that ― CSK managed to win the second most number of titles (4), besides Mumbai Indians (5). Not only that, Dhoni’s team failed only on two occasions when it was not able to make it to the play-offs (last four on the points table). The contrast couldn’t have been starker either for Virat Kohli (captain from 2013 to 2021) or CSK’s southern neighbour, RCB, which are synonymous with a remarkably unpredictable outcome from one year to another.
From the 7th position (among 8 teams) in the inaugural season, to the finalist in the very next year in 2009, they made it to the semi-finals in 2010, but were again unlucky to finish the runner-up in 2011. The next three years were abysmally low for Kohli’s side (5th in 2012 and 2013 and 7th in 2014). However, things started getting better from there as they made it to the playoffs in 2015. And stunningly in 2016, they almost won the trophy on the staggeringly single-handed brilliance of Kohli. After finishing as the runner-up once again, and the third time, astonishingly, their performance nose-dived in the next three years (8th in 2017 and 2019 and 6th in 2018).
Fans and experts have found countless reasons for what went wrong with RCB over the years. From the botched auctions to Kohli’s leadership issues (lack of tactical moves) to the assembly of unimaginative and ridiculous bowling attacks. The RCB is a colossal brand on the IPL circuit, and their social media team is one of the best PR machines. Yet, they could no longer afford to overlook the fact that they desperately needed a trophy. More so, when captain Kohli who was often castigated after every failure of IPL season, in an inevitable comparison with the unparalleled Dhoni and equally illustrious contemporary Rohit Sharma, was hotly debated in mainstream as well as social media.
Kohli’s stature as leader was at its peak in Indian cricket and yet he knew that something had to be done to correct this anomaly in his otherwise outstanding curriculum vitae (CV). The coaches and support staffs were changed, and auction strategies made far more logical ― they made it to the play-offs back-to-back in 2022 and 2021. And in spite of all that, the desperately-needed trophy for validation still eluded Kohli. Eventually, Kohli realised that even if his franchise was tolerating his lack of success as RCB leader, fans and experts were not as forgiving.
Cut now to this new season. Former South African captain and a CSK stalwart, Faf du Plessis joined RCB as the new captain. The first half of the season (5 wins out of 7) was like any breath-taking batting display during the Power Play overs. After that, they inexplicably lost steam in the middle of the season, but yet managed a miraculous comeback to make it to the playoffs as the fourth team. Oddly, and for a change, this time it did appear that finally lady luck was smiling as Delhi Capitals were beaten by Mumbai Indians in their last league match, allowing RCB a sort of ‘back door’ entry. And, once they defeated one of the best teams of the tournament, Lucknow Super Giants, in the Eliminator, it did look like that finally a season with high hopes may end with something memorable.
So much so that now almost everyone was predicting that the stars were aligning for RCB, and how even the cricketing god was conspiring for an end to a title drought. To buttress the arguments, IPL’s luckiest mascot Karn Sharma was being spoken as the clinching factor. For the uninitiated, the leg spinner from Meerut has been part of three different IPL teams. The leg-spinner was part of Sun Risers Hyderabad in 2016, and Mumbai Indians in 2017. In 2018, he moved to CSK and accomplished a hat-trick of IPL trophies, which neither Dhoni nor Rohit (two of the most successful players in the history of IPL) have managed to do. Karn’s status as a lucky-charm was elevated further when he won IPL for the fourth time last year, without even a single appearance for CSK in the season. One is not sure if Karn was roped in by RCB precisely for that reason, but tragically his luck (being part of Champion teams) ran out once he became part of RCB.
Regardless of the fact that if you are a passionate backer of the RCB or an indifferent follower of the team or even a fierce critic, perhaps you too may be compelled to feel sorry for RCB. Why does it have to be them every time? Yet another instance of the proverbial ‘so near and yet so far’ for Bangalore. For the third consecutive time, Bangalore qualified for the play-offs, and this time came as close as till Qualifier 2.
No one can dispute the fact that winning an IPL trophy is incredibly tough. There are always too many variables and too many things which have to fall in place at the right time. To their credit, RCB did a lot of things right which included a sensible auction in January followed by the specific role assigned to key individuals. Despite the sustained struggle of charismatic Kohli and Glenn Maxwell, they incredibly kept finding new match winners from time to time this season. Refreshingly, there was no trolling for a weaker bowling attack or the usual criticism of being a batting line-up which was too dependent on big stars. On the contrary, they had an enviable and quality finisher with the bat (Dinesh Karthik) and the ball (Harshal Patel) in the most difficult phase (death overs), which had proved the Achilles heel for them in the past.
Once again, it is easy to be dismissive of RCB’s fine outing and put the blame on the awful forms of the two India players, Kohli and Mohammed Siraj. Perhaps, it is also unfair to conclude that Bangalore was simply fortunate to have come this far.Philosophically speaking, most of us are like RCB in our lifetimes. There is an enormous burden of living up to expectations year after year, no matter how brilliant or horrible you were the last time around in every examination of life. Every time we fail or disappoint ourselves, there is always another day, another week, another month, and another season to lift ourselves, to once again believe in an unfulfilled dream. That inherent philosophy of sports makes it a wonderful pursuit and the same attitude towards life can make our journey joyous. After all, we all tend to take ourselves too seriously, don’t we?