Glenn Maxwell
Glenn Maxwell of Royal Challengers Bangalore strikes a boundary against the Rajasthan Royals during the Indian Premier League game at the Dubai International Stadium on September 29, 2021. Image Credit: PTI/Sportzpics

The Royal Challengers Bangalore play bold. That’s their motto. But when they slip up, it’s not a pretty sight. They either win by a mile or lose by a mile. That’s inconsistency, a factor that has blighted their campaigns in the Indian Premier League.

It’s a blot on the record of a marquee side, whose best shows have been runners up in 2009 and 2016. Skipper Virat Kohli was sure that 2020 would be Bangalore’s year, but a string of losses pushed them to the fourth slot. Yet, there were signs of a turnaround in the fortunes of the team that finished closer to the basement in the previous years.

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So when Bangalore shot off the blocks this year with some sterling wins, the big question was when would they hit the skids. They did but hauled themselves back swiftly enough to retain title aspirations. That’s the difference this year, a huge difference indeed. A factor that could propel them to the final of IPL 2021.

The game against the Rajasthan Royals on Wednesday showcased Bangalore’s strengths and resilience. They rode out the storm wrought by openers Evin Lewis and Yashasvi Jaiswal before throttling Rajasthan with spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Shahbaz Ahmed. Some of that was due to the unimaginative batting from the Rajasthan middle-order, yet the spinners deserve full credit for luring them.

The batting too had been clinical with Kohli and Devdutt Padikkal setting up the platform for K.S. Bharat and Glenn Maxwell to push on. Bharat’s batting in the UAE has been sensational and infused more steel in the RCB middle order. Even the patchy form of star player AB de Villiers is not a worry.

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For that, Bangalore should thank Maxwell. The Australian, who had struggled for form during his tenure with the Punjab Kings (erstwhile Kings XI Punjab), has returned to his big-hitting ways. His off-spin has worked well for Bangalore, with Kohli employing it even in the powerplay.

Maxwell is not blasting everything in sight. In the games against Rajasthan and the Mumbai Indians, he played himself in before shifting gears. The Mumbai game reflected Maxwell’s thought process, where he employed the switch-hit with devastating effect to make full use of the shorter boundary. More all-round performances from Maxwell should help Bangalore’s hot pursuit of the IPL title.

Is De Villiers’s poor form a worry? No, not really. It’s too early to call it poor form. The South African has the uncanny ability to stage rescue acts when Bangalore are in trouble. He’s done that so many times in the past that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him come to Bangalore’s aid.

Chahal has come into his own in the UAE. One of the reasons behind Bangalore’s losses in Phase I was the leg-spinner’s lack of penetration. Chahal is Kohli’s go-to man whenever he needs wickets, and the leggie has obliged often. That didn’t happen in India, but Chahal has rediscovered his loop to deceive the batsmen.

Harshal Patel’s slow-ball trickery has solved Bangalore’s enduring problem of leaking runs in the slog overs. It was so bad that they had lost matches from winning positions. Patel, who claimed a hat-trick against Mumbai, has been a revelation with his dipping slower balls that kept the scoring down. Never mind the pasting at the hands of Ravindra Jadeja in the match against Chennai Super Kings in Mumbai. That’s the only stain in his brilliant show this year. He’s clearly put that nightmare behind him.

It all looks good for Bangalore this year. So, what’s the worry? The two losses against Chennai and the Kolkata Knight Riders rankle, for it showed that the self-destructive streak remains. A team that fail to score 100 should be worried, and Bangalore tend to crash to low scores. It reflects an inherent fragility in the batting. If they can prevent it from recurring, Bangalore can win it this year. That’s if they keep playing boldly.