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Well, yes. Royal Challengers Banglore lost the opening match to Kolkata Knight Riders in Kolkata. A star-studded team, best batsmen at their disposal, a super-aggressive captain, and yet the result -- not able to defend a not-so-bad total! That is the story of Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB).
Winning the toss, Dinesh Karthik, the newly appointed captain of KKR, invited Virat Kohli & company to bat first. With the firepower of Brendon McCullum and Quinton de Kock in the arsenal, a blazing start was expected. McCullum did smash a few shots across the park in the first over of the innings, but de Kock survived only two balls and fell cheaply.
If a team is losing an opener for a paltry score and that too in the powerplay, a big score for the team becomes highly unlikely. McCullum did what he is known for: He took apart the KKR bowling and kept the scoring rate high. However, he could not comprehend the spin magic of Sunil Narine and was clean bowled.
When AB de Villiers joined Virat Kohli, it seemed there was a show waiting to be unleashed. Kohli looked rusty, but AB seemed in sublime touch. Those towering sixes by him were quite a treat to watch. But then Karthik pulled out the rabbit from his hat: In came part-timer Nitish Rana and slow, right-arm bowler, perplexed the mighty ABD, and eventually took his wicket. His inability to play spin was evident. The dream run for Rana did not end with AB's wicket. He bowled Virat Kohli on the very next ball.
Though he was coming back from what was clled a much-needed break from international cricket, Kohli remained rusty; he managed to score only 31 runs off 33 balls with a strike rate of 93.33, poor in the fast-paced cricket format Twenty-20, and unacceptable from a player like Kohli.
The top four of the RCB line-up -- the heart of their firepower -- back in dug-out and the scorecard read only 127. The onus was on the middle order to perform, as it was not such a bad time to enter the field. Once again, the middle order again showed that it will disappoint if the top order fails. Promising youngster Sarfaraz Khan was dismissed for a mere 6. And it was with a cameo by Chris Woakes that the team reached a respectable score of 176-7.
Points to be noted: Failing to rise to the opportunity hurts the team. Not hitting in slog overs costs dearly. Throwing the bat at every delivery is not the best way to go about in the death. Anticipation matters. RCB failed pathetically in all these.
Mitchell Johnson yielded just 6 runs in the 19th over. This begs the question: Are the RCB batsmen so incapable or is Johnson so unplayable. Although Vinay Kumar was hit for a six, four and a six in the last over of the innings, the final three deliveries cost KKR 0 runs, even as it bagged two wickets. There's surely something in that for RCB to look into; trying to induct some power-hitters lower down the order might help escape embarrassments like this one.
Still, 177 is not a bad score if bowlers live up to expectations. Alas, RCB knew well how to leak runs where there should have been none. Sunil Narine ruthlessly smashed the RCB bowling all across, and nearly broke the record for the fastest fifty set earlier in the day by K L Rahul for KXIP.
RCB also failed to learn from their mistakes in the green-day match last year against KKR at Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore, and gave Sunil Narine freebies, of which he took full advantage and made fifty in just 17 balls before getting out for 50. When Narine departed, the KKR scoreboard showed 65 -- a reflection of the dismal performance of RCB bowlers, especially the much-hyped spinners -- Yuzuvendra Chahal and Washington Sunder.
The captaincy of Virat Kohli looked lacklustre, too. He never looked his aggressive self and didn't have any answer to Narine onslaught. He asked both spinners, Chahal and Sunder, to bowl in the powerplay, in spite of having fierce fast bowlers like Umesh Yadav. It seemed the RCB team management did not have any game-plan against Narine, who scored the most against spinners. In the past, Narine did struggle against fast bowlers, and the way Umesh Yadav bowled his first over, the fifth over of the innings, and took Narine wickets off the first ball of his spell, showed Kohli might have missed a trick.
Narine's early shot-play gave KKR the impetus to play sensibly while taking singles and doubles with some boundaries here and there. Kohli never tried to save singles and doubles and exert pressure on Kolkata Knight Riders by bringing fielders into the 30-yard circle.
Meanwhile, some wickets did fall, but KKR never seemed in a position to lose. Virat Kohli might have to work on a lot, if he hopes to win IPL this time. He had said on the eve of the game, "more than the fans I want to win the cup." Abysmal bowling and failures to convert starts into big scores will never let RCB to that.