Bangalore: Royal (Un)Challengers
Twenty20 cricket is still a new package for everyone, and till now there is perhaps no one who can properly be called an ‘expert’ of this format. Yet we have seen enough to infer that some fundamental pre-requisites of success in the other forms of cricket also apply to this one: strong and decisive captaincy, clear role-definitions for the team members, clear thinking on the part of every player and cohesive team-effort. Most of these lessons were acquired last year thanks to the brilliant mind and skill of Shane Warne and the examples he set. And these lessons are further reinforced by the continuing failure of the Bangalore Royal Challengers.
Expensive And Ineffective
Perhaps the only royal thing about the Bangalore effort in the first season and the first part of this second one has been the amount of money Vijay Mallya has spent. After acquiring expensive players like Kallis, Steyn and Boucher, he topped it all with his biggest prize: Kevin Pietersen. > One-and-a-half million dollars for a captain who did not know his playing eleven at the toss in the game against the Kings XI Punjab…No, the idea is not to criticize Kevin Pietersen’s sincerity. To be fair to him, he is not the only one in the Bangalore camp who looks uncertain and out-of-sync. The entire mood seems to be that way. The problem is that this is a team of superstars who are not used to losing. Stalwarts of the game stand wherever you turn your eye, even as you go down to Virat Kohli (he captained the Indian under-19 team to world cup success in 2007), yet together they seem to make a woeful combination of whipping boys. The mood could be nothing but somber.
This problem, however, could also contain a clue to the cause of their string of defeats: a team of superstars. Actually, even that’s not accurate. This does not seem like a team, one should just say: ‘superstars’. They were brought in thanks to Mallya’s extravagant and aggressive auction house policy, but once the biggest names of the game arrived, it seems that there was no one to bother themselves with the important question: ‘how to compose these players into a team and achieve a winning combination?’
Actually, neither does it appear that the approach of the team management (wherever that is) was just old fashioned laid-back. Had they just let individuals be individuals, one has to believe that the likes of Boucher, Kallis, Dravid, Kumble, Steyn and co. would have constructed a few wins (over last year and this one) just on weight of their sheer talent. But, while the team management hasn’t seemed intent on making good decisions, they have, in fact, gone ahead and made a string of inexplicable decisions that threaten to split the team and de-motivate them even further than they might already be.
A Series Of Bad Decisions
First of all, Pietersen doesn’t really look like a man in command. A stark contrast to Warne, he doesn’t seem to know his own resources. Walking out for a toss, announcing that there haven’t been any changes in the team and then finding out that there are in fact three changes (!) is a big problem for a captain. > His batting has also looked far from convincing, so much so that since he takes up one of the four overseas players positions, he appears to be a liability. One doubts if he would have been persisted with, had he not been the captain, being in the kind of form he is in.
Yet, Pietersen’s troubles are not all. There have been a string of dubious decisions as far as team composition goes.
The first of all the questions one would want to throw at the Bangalore team is - ‘where was Mark Boucher for the first four games, why didn’t he play?’ It was the question on many lips before the game on Sunday. The IPL is happening in his home conditions, he is a destructive batsman in the middle order, his wicket keeping is of the highest order, yet he can’t find his way into a failing line-up…what explanation justifies this? Uthappa, his alternative, is a very mediocre make-shift wicket keeper and in his current form, a clueless batsman. In the game previous to the one on Sunday, apart from his first ball duck, he let of a four between his legs and let go a difficult chance Boucher may have grabbed…can the Bangalore team afford this experiment?
Then there is also the issue of their bizarre middle-order. After the openers, they fielded five professional middle-order batsmen in the game against Punjab (Kallis, Dravid, Pietersen, Ross Taylor and Virat Kohli). While this looks like a high profile line-up, the problem is that none of them is a late-order, ‘walk-into-the-death’ hitter, the kind that plays a very critical role in the last three-four overs of this format. The only guys in this squad who have a reputation for being that kind are Boucher and Van Der Merwe, and while Boucher played one, the latter hasn’t yet got a game. Not surprisingly, the Bangalore team has lacked the late acceleration in every game that they have played. Virat Kohli, who was in good form against the Deccan Chargers, was completely wasted at number 7. Common sense dictates that a man in form should be sent in sooner. Thankfully, things changed a bit in the previous game against Delhi – they sent Kallis to open and Virat Kohli up the order. Dravid was left out and Boucher came in (and played a crucial knock of 36 too).
South African Bench-warmers
The metaphorical cherry on the cake, however, of all their bad decisions was – no, let’s make it a trivia question. Which foreign cricketer made way from the game against the Deccan Chargers so that Ross Taylor could fit into the bracket of four overseas players against Punjab and over-crowd the middle-order in the process? The answer is: Dale Steyn. And which bowler replaced him? Pankaj Singh! It is not even worth making the effort of launching into a criticism. Figures prove a point here: the Challengers have just managed to take seven wickets in the last two games. And, of course, lost both of them.
If the Challengers did have to drop Steyn, why did they not consider the guy sitting idly next to him in the dug-out during the previous game? The reference is to Roelof Van Der Merwe, who just two weeks back made a sensational start to his international career against Australia. For one, he is a very smart and attacking left-arm spinner in the shorter version of the game, sitting in conditions he’s grown up in. Then, this is a tournament which has anyway favored spinners. What also cannot be ignored is Van Der Merwe’s batting. He is a quintessential late-order hitter, something that the Bangalore team has desperately needed. All in all, the package that he presents is certainly worth more than just a try. Especially in a team that has anyway slipped from one dismal defeat to another.
It is very clear that if Bangalore are to change their luck, they need to think straight and make the right decisions. Luck, after all, hardly ever follows those who do nothing to earn it. How that will happen, though, in a team that has been floundering for 19 matches now is very difficult to imagine.
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