COMMENT: Rahul’s injury has hurt struggling Royal Challengers

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April 23 is a date to remember for Royal Challengers Bangalore. Back in 2013, Chris Gayle played one of the most ferocious T20 knocks in history as he struck an imposing 175 off 66 balls – including 17 sixes – against the now-defunct Pune Warriors. It helped his side score the highest IPL total ever – 263-5 in 20 overs.

Four years later, on the same date this past Sunday, the Royal Challengers’ management and fans got to witness the other end of the spectrum. Chasing 132 against Kolkata Knight Riders, Bangalore were bowled out for 49 runs in 9.4 overs – the lowest-ever total in IPL history.

It explains the mercurial nature of this franchise team. They have boasted the likes of Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers in their line-up for what seems an eternity now.

And yet they have never won the IPL crown. Instead, they are equally capable of setting up records as hitting the self-destruct button at a moment’s notice. It is great entertainment for the neutrals, but for the ones with a stake in Royal Challengers’ results, this unpredictability only sows inconsistency.

Franchise T20 teams abhor that last word. In an IPL season that spans about six weeks, the slightest variation in well-set processes can bring about undesired results.

Hence, management teams in the IPL strive for uniformity, almost to the extent that it can be tedious at times.

Look at what Chennai Super Kings did before they were banned – somehow or other they retained the nucleus of their side, and relied on a core group of players to deliver the goods. It is what Mumbai Indians have strived for this season.

Until the game against Delhi Daredevils when Mitchell Johnson was included in the playing eleven, Mumbai had played their first six matches without a single player bought at this year’s auction.

Or, look at Kolkata Knight Riders, even. At best, they are reliant on changing specific elements of their bowling attack but retaining core players – whether overseas or domestic. When Chris Lynn was ruled out owing to injury, Kolkata baulked at changing their batting order and instead shuffled Sunil Narine to the opening slot, surprising many but proving a masterstroke.

Another common aspect herein is how these two franchises have also identified three key overseas players with absolute certainty. It leaves room for experimentation as well as puts onus on their Indian players, especially the younger ones, to take up more responsibility.

It can be argued here that the Royal Challengers have two such overseas players marked up permanently – Gayle and de Villiers. The addition of Shane Watson helped their cause in the 2016 IPL, when they finished runners-up, but he’s been found wanting this year.

So, what has gone so horribly wrong at RCB?

Bangalore have forever been plagued with an imbalance between its batting and bowling resources. It wasn’t as prominent last season when Kohli smacked 973 runs and forced almost every opposition into submission. Ahead of this season though, team management over-compensated in bringing together more options – Tymal Mills, Billy Stanlake, Pawan Negi and Aniket Choudhary.

In trying to fit in Negi as well as one of the overseas pacers (along with Adam Milne) available, Shane Watson has been sacrificed at times. Last year, the former Australia international scored only 179 runs in 16 matches, but more importantly, picked up 20 wickets.

This imbalance becomes more pronounced with the absence of injured duo KL Rahul and Sarfaraz Khan, that has resulted in a paucity of runs from this much vaunted batting line-up. Khan, 19, is an exciting prospect, boasting a T20 strike-rate over 150, and was expected to kick on this year after impressing in limited outings in 2016.

Rahul, meanwhile, is a much bigger loss.

Last season, after Gayle was struggling for form, the team opened with Rahul instead. The result: he scored 397 runs in 14 matches, with four half-centuries. Over the past year, Rahul has graduated into a top quality international batsman, someone who could have been an anchoring point for the Bangalore top-order.

In the IPL, however, while it means opportunity for others, the likes of Mandeep Singh (65 runs in seven matches), Stuart Binny (77 runs and three wickets in seven matches) and Negi (35 runs and six wickets in six matches) just haven’t kicked on, leaving Kedar Jadhav with too much to do, too often. Gayle’s continuously stuttering starts, de Villier’s lack of fitness (he has played only 4 out of 7 matches thus far) and Watson’s intermittent selection has heaped further pressure on Kohli’s shoulders.

The star batsman has responded aptly with 154 runs from four matches since his full recovery from shoulder injury. But unless someone stands up and contributes more often, thus forcing a consistently steady balance in their playing eleven, even Kohli cannot pull the Royal Challengers Bangalore out of their current quagmire.

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IN PICS: First washout of IPL 2017 hurts RCB chances

Sport360 staff 22:24 25/04/2017

The 2017 IPL suffered its first washout of the season on Tuesday night with Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad sharing a point without a ball being bowled.

For the home side, desperately in need of a win to restart their failing campaign, the share of the spoils did little to lift spirits and left their hopes of reaching the Playoffs in tatters.

The point does mean RCB climb two places, and off the bottom of the league, but with five points and a maximum of 12 left for Bangalore to gain from their remaining six matches, they are staring at an early exit.

Only four times in nine IPL editions has a side qualified with fewer than 16 points, RCB now only capable of getting to the 17 mark if they were able to win every one of their last six games.

As for Sunrisers, they remain third on nine points, a point behind second-place Kolkata Knight Riders and one more ahead of Rising Pune Supergiant, albeit with Hyderabad having played a game extra.

The result also means that SRH’s search for an away win this season continues.

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IPL Preview: Rising Pune Supergiant vs Kolkata Knight Riders

Sport360 staff 18:54 25/04/2017
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Who will come out on top?

Ahead of the match, we have the latest team news, start time and date, as well as how you can watch all the action from the UAE.


DATE, TIME, VENUE INFO

Date: April 26, 2017 (Wednesday)

Time: 18:30 GST, 20:00 local time (IST), 14:30 GMT

Venue: Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium, Pune


WHERE TO WATCH, LIVE STREAMING INFO

TV: UAE – OSN Sports Cricket HD, India – Sony Six, Sony Six HD (English), Sony Max, Sony Max HD 3 (Hindi), UK – Sky Sports

Online streaming: hotstar.com, Hotstar app (in India only)

LIVE: Sport360.com


TEAM NEWS, SQUADS, PREDICTED XIs

RPS SQUAD: MS Dhoni, Ajinkya Rahane, Steve Smith, Faf du Plessis, Ashok Dinda, Ankush Bains, Rajat Bhatia, Ankit Sharma, Ishwar Pandey, Adam Zampa, Jaskaran Singh, Baba Aparajith, Deepak Chahar, Usman Khawaja, Mayank Agarwal, Ben Stokes, Jaydev Unadkat, Rahul Chahar, Saurabh Kumar, Dan Christian, Milind Tandon, Rahul Tripathi, Manoj Tiwary, Lockie Ferguson, Shardul Thakur, Imran Tahir

Three wins on the bounds for Pune has coincided with a return to form of MS Dhoni and the side has been propelled up the table into fourth with all the power of a Dhoni Helicopter Shot.

Ben Stokes has been superb with the ball and it is their bowlers that have been doing the bulk of the work recently.

The batsmen must start contributing if RPS are to continue in this rich vein of form with Faf du Plessis one man who will be itching to get back in the side and prove a point.

PREDICTED RPS XI: Rahane, Tripathi, Smith (c), Dhoni (wk), Stokes, Tiwary, Christian, Sundar, Thakur, Unadkat, Tahir

KKR SQUAD: Gautam Gambhir, Sunil Narine, Kuldeep Yadav, Manish Pandey, Suryakumar Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Robin Uthappa, Shakib Al Hasan, Chris Lynn, Umesh Yadav, Yusuf Pathan, Sheldon Jackson, Ankit Singh Rajpoot, Trent Boult, Chris Woakes, Rishi Dhawan, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Rovman Powell, R Sanjay Yadav, Ishank Jaggi, Darren Bravo, Sayan Ghosh, Colin de Grandhomme

Kolkata had their own problems with the bat last time out but a quite remarkable bowling performance saw RCB bowled out for a record low IPL total of 49.

Sunil Narine has been a revelation opening the batting but much more is expected of the likes of Colin de Grandhomme who has so far been highly disappointing with the bat.

Shakib Al Hasan will be wondering how he hasn’t been considered a first-choice option and has been resigned to just the single outing so far.

PREDICTED KKR XI: Gambhir (c), Narine, Uthappa (wk), Pandey, Pathan, S Yadav, Shakib, Woakes, U Yadav, Coulter-Nile, K Yadav


FORM

(Last five matches – with latest match first)

RPS: W W W L L

KKR: W L W W W


MATCH PREDICTION

Pune have been in great touch but with their batsmen still misfiring, KKR edge this.

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