Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli, captain of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, sets the field during a match in IPL 2020. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

For a high-profile team, the Royal Challengers Bangalore are yet to win the Indian Premier League. That’s strange given the resources and the world-class players in their ranks. It’s just that they never got the mix right. They could never put together a team that could bring success in a sustained manner. Much like the Mumbai Indians and the Chennai Super Kings.

Virat Kohli, the skipper for eight years, was confident that 2020 would be Bangalore’s moment in the IPL sun. Fifteen games later, the Sunrisers Hyderabad laid that claim to waste. A crestfallen Kohli was at a loss to explain the ouster although he touched upon several points. None of that will mitigate the disappointment of Bangalore fans.

Did Kohli fail as a captain? Former Indian opener Gautam Gambhir thinks so. He told ESPNcricinfo that Kohli should put his hand up and take responsibility for the loss. There should be accountability, he added. You could agree or disagree with Gambhir. But he raised an important point: Why hasn’t Kohli turned around the fortunes of the team in eight years at the helm? The answer is simple: A captain is only as good as his team.

If Bangalore has failed, it is the collective failure of the owners, management, coaching staff and the captain. It means that they have not been able to build a team that’s good enough to last the distance. And stars don’t make the team. That was one of Bangalore’s problems in the early years of IPL. They used to buy star players spending huge sums only to dump them in a year or two.

Kohli is an exception. He’s been with Bangalore since 2008. In fact, he’s played for only one IPL franchise. And despite the ownership changing hands, Kohli has remained the captain for eight seasons.

Is Kohli a bad captain? No, he can’t be a good captain when he leads the national team and a bad one for the franchise. It’s just that the best players represent the country, while a franchise is a team cobbled together by the management, coaching staff and the captain, with a little help from cheque books.

Kohli brings the same passion to both the leadership roles. Wide grins plaster his face when the going is good, and misfields are greeted with withering stares. It’s a total contrast to the approaches of Chennai’s Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Mumbai’s Rohit Sharma. But then that’s him and his take-no-prisoners approach. You can’t fault that.

Tactically, he gambles hard. It may not always pay off, and that hasn’t stopped him from trying. But you can’t accuse him of not trying. It hasn’t worked for Bangalore, simply because he doesn’t have the right personnel for the job.

Where did Bangalore go wrong?

Take the case of openers. Aaron Finch was signed up this year specifically to attack during the powerplay, but the Australian failed to fire consistently. Josh Philippe, another new signing, too couldn’t get going. That put pressure on the middle-order, despite debutant Devdutt Padikkal’s fine run.

In the middle-order, the burden falls on Kohli and AB de Villiers. And they don’t possess late-order big hitters like Mumbai and the Kolkata Knight Riders to utilise the slog overs. So, here lies the crux of the problem. An under-cooked batting, which leads to low totals. And most of Bangalore’s losses can be traced to the scarcity of runs.

Bowling too has been a perennial problem for Bangalore, whose best has been two-second place finishes. The last three years have been one of their low points. So, when the IPL came to the UAE, Mike Hesson, Bangalore’s director of cricket operations, was sure that the auction had helped fix the flaws in the team’s composition. The recruitment of Chris Morris, Isuru Udana and Kane Richardson was aimed at staunching the run-leak in the slog overs. Richardson couldn’t join the team, but Morris had fitness issues missing several games at the start and the Eliminator. But Navdeep Saini’s did the job at the death competently.

Did Bangalore bowling lack firepower?

When it came to taking wickets, Yuzvendra Chahal was the only bowler who could deliver. Morris looked incisive in some matches, Udana too. When conditions helped Mohammed Siraj’s swing fetched wickets. Beyond that Bangalore’s bowling lacked the firepower to blow away their rivals.

So, where do Bangalore go from here? Will they retain Kohli as captain? If Bangalore hasn’t changed its captain in eight years, they are not going to do it next year. But they will need to take a hard look at the team and take hard decisions to rebuild it. You can have the best players, but there’s no guarantee that they will perform. Ask the Rajasthan Royals.

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Perhaps, Mumbai offer a good template. Their bench strength is so good that an injury to a player doesn’t impact the team. And they have batsmen who can play anywhere in the order; Ishan Kishan, Hardik Pandya and Krunal Pandya have been used according to the demands of the situation. And they need late-order hitters like Kieron Pollard and Andre Russell for the late surges. Morris can work up a tidy pace, but he needs more support. A couple of fiery fast bowlers like the Delhi Capitals’ Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje would help.

Season 14 of IPL should be upon us soon. Let’s see how Bangalore rebuild their side. They sure need a change in approach and culture. It should not be a team that revolves around Kohli and De Villiers. It should be a team capable of winning even in the absence of Kohli and De Villiers. Can they do it? Let’s wait and watch.