Royal Challengers Bengaluru
A RARE MOMENT OF CELEBRATION: Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s players rejoice after the dismissal of Rajasthan Royals’ captain Sanju Samson during the Indian Premier League eliminator cricket match in Ahmedabad on May 22, 2024. Rajasthan won by four wickets with six balls remaining. Image Credit: AFP

All good things come to an end. That’s the law of nature. The law of averages. So it was little surprise that Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s six-match unbeaten streak ended on Wednesday. Unfortunately, that was in a crunch playoff match against the Rajasthan Royals, when a loss meant exit from IPL 2024.

The defeat to Rajasthan will hurt. But Bengaluru can go out with their heads held high, having revived their campaign from the dead, bringing plenty of joy to their fans, who were anguished over their seven losses in the first eight games.

I was wrong; my prediction went awry. I expected Bengaluru to ride the wave of victories to the final. Their energy and positivity were so high that it seemed they could surmount the obstacles and vagaries of T20 cricket.

What went wrong for RCB

Where did Bengaluru go wrong? Actually, they didn’t make too many mistakes. I thought they were a bit unlucky at times. It matters in close games, where tiny margins make a huge difference.

Toss plays a crucial role in Ahmedabad, where dew makes bowling a challenge in the second innings. Despite skipper Faf du Plessis losing the crucial toss, RCB batted well but not brilliantly. Maybe if Virat Kohli (33) or Rajat Patidar (34) had stuck around to score a 70, Bengaluru would have scored an extra 20 runs, and that would have mattered much.

Well, you can’t blame Kohli and Patidar. Kohli has to score at a higher rate, especially in the middle overs. For that, he employs the slog-sweep against the spinners and was very successful in the league games until he mistimed a (Yuzvendra) Chahal leg-break in the eliminator. It happens. That’s the nature of the game and the inherent risk of the stroke. Patidar enjoyed a slice of luck but fell to the pressure of keeping up the tempo.

Dinesh Karthik’s farewell game

More luck came their way when the third umpire erred in overturning an LBW verdict against Dinesh Karthik. In his last IPL game, Karthik couldn’t cash in and Glenn Maxwell’s horror show (a fatal first-ball swipe) had nothing to do with luck. Mahipal Lomror’s (33) lusty blows kept RCB afloat, but the total 172 was certainly under par.

To their credit, Bengaluru fought hard, and Rajasthan batsmen nearly stumbled in the chase. The absence of Jos Buttler’s expertise and experience was clearly felt despite the early enterprise of Yashavi Jaiswal. Captain Sanju Samson’s dismissal (stumped) and Dhruv Jurel’s runout (a debatable decision) were borne out of nervy batting. More jitters were evident when Riyan Parag and Shimron Hetmyer very nearly presented another runout opportunity.

Parag, who held firm while the rest lost their heads, finally succumbed to the pressure that wasn’t there. He had steered Rajasthan towards the target and opted for a crossbat swipe when there was no scoreboard pressure.

Why didn’t RCB turn up the heat when Rajasthan set about contriving setbacks? That was mainly due to a design flaw — a poor spin attack. A top-class legspinner like Wanindu Hasaranga would have made a big difference. No disrespect to leggie Karn Sharma, who drew Samson out for a stumping, but he leaked runs. So did left-arm spinner Swapnil Singh, who bowled with the new ball.

I thought Swapnil deserved another shot during the middle overs. Du Plessis wasn’t inclined to turn to Maxwell, possibly influenced by the Australian’s horrendous batting. Here’s where RCB lost the game: they didn’t have spinners to boss the middle overs.

How spin turned the tide for Rajasthan

Contrast this to the Bengaluru innings, when Rajasthan’s Ravichandran Ashwin produced his best spell (2-19) of the tournament, and despite being expensive, Chahal prised out the most valuable RCB wicket (Kohli). It sustained the pressure in the middle overs after Trent Boult’s splendid three-over burst (1-6) in the powerplay.

RCB couldn’t do that. They didn’t have the arsenal. And a wet ball didn’t help. Yet, Mohammad Siraj’s double strike in over 18 nearly railroaded Rajasthan before Rovman Powell struck the winning runs.

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It was close. Closer than the stats suggest. Like Du Plessis said in the post-match chat with the broadcaster, 20 more runs would have helped. Maybe they missed Will Jacks (he returned to join the England team), who was so good in the league matches. To me, lack of quality spin was the difference. Maybe RCB will rectify it in the mega auction.

Ee sala kap nammadalla (the cup is not ours, this time). That’s no reason to shed tears. Let’s cheer RCB for giving their fans hope, especially after a horrific start. Every match after that was a knockout; they won them all. Made us believe they could win the cup. But like in the past 16 seasons, they faltered.

Never mind, that’s cricket. All good things come to an end. That’s life.