Karn Sharma
Karn Sharma of the Royal Challengers Bangalore celebrates after taking the wicket of Andre Russell of the Kolkata Knight Riders during the IPL match at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata, on April 6, 2023. The leg-spinner was RCB’s best bowler until Shardul Thakur of KKR took the match away from them. Image Credit: Sportzpics for IPL

The Royal Challengers Bangalore did it again! A rousing win followed by a humiliating loss. Looks like that’s become some kind of template. Every year for the last 15 years, I looked forward to each IPL saying: this will be RCB’s season. Well, they flatter to deceive. At least, they are consistent with that.

They started well against the Kolkata Knight Riders on Thursday. Left-arm seamer David Willey and leg-spinner Karn Sharma hushed the boisterous Eden Gardens crowd into silence with telling strikes, only for Shardul Thakur to rescue KKR with a blistering knock.

His 28-ball 68 breathed life into the KKR innings, and the Kolkata crowd came alive. In the company of Rinku Singh (46 off 33 balls), Thakur lifted KKR, who were tottering at 89 for five in 10 overs, to finish at 205. The match was firmly in Kolkata’s bag as the sixth wicket stand of 103 (47 balls) took the wind out of Bangalore’s sails.

Three things stood out as RCB were deflated by the blitzkrieg. One is the familiar failing in the slog overs. For Bangalore, they are the death overs when they roll over and die. That’s a kind of tradition. The Achilles heel is as old as the franchise.

The sloppy slog overs of RCB

Even in IPL 2023, the death-over carnage surfaced in the fine win against five-time champions Mumbai Indians in the season opener. The last four overs bled 60 runs, but that didn’t matter since captain Faf du Plessis and Virat Kohli had the chase under control.

The game against Kolkata was lost in the last four overs, as Bangalore bowlers leaked 57 runs. That included death-over specialist Harshal Patel, who had a poor outing giving away 38 runs in three overs.

The second aspect that baffled me was Du Plessis’s bowling changes. Two of his frontline bowlers — leggie Sharma and seamer Patel — didn’t complete their quota of four overs. When faced with an onslaught, captains generally turn to their best bowlers. Sharma was one of RCB’s best, as the leggie had KKR on the rack with a double strike and nearly snared Thakur for a hat-trick. Why he didn’t get one more over remains a mystery, especially since the Kolkata spinners spun a web around the Bangalore batters, scalping nine.

The loss of Reece Topley to a shoulder injury has been a big blow, but Willey has filled his boots adequately. The possible return of Josh Hazlewood from an Achilles injury can sharpen the attack, but there’s no timeline for the Australian’s availability. His return and the arrival of Wayne Parnell, who comes in for Topley, may help resolve the slog-over trauma. Leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga is expected after Sri Lanka’s tour of New Zealand, and that should beef up the spin stock.

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Had the RCB bowlers restricted KKR to under 175, they would have had a chance. Maybe not! The batting display was equally pathetic. After the 44-run opening stand between Du Plessis (23) and Kohli (21), the wheels came off. Michael Bracewell and Dinesh Karthik pottered around for a while and never looked like taking charge.

RCB’s batting resources

The capitulation also calls for a reexamination of the RCB’s batting resources. Rajat Patidar is injured, so Shahbaz Ahmed and Anuj Rawat (who came in as the impact player) must step up. Maybe, Du Plessis and head coach Sanjay Bangar should consider 24-year-old Suyash Prabhudessai’s claims too. RCB will require consistent contributions from overseas batters Bracewell and Glenn Maxwell if they have to nurture ambitions of making the playoffs.

The 81-run loss to Kolkata brutally exposed Bangalore’s shortcomings. It’s only the second game of the season. There’s enough time to address the flaws and mount a challenge for the last-four spot. The sooner, the better. Or else the RCB quest for a maiden IPL title will continue.