Ideally this headline should read as 'Royal Challengers Bangalore Lay Down The Marker', having taken an early lead in the Indian Premier League 2013. Despite Sunrisers Hyderabad and Rajasthan Royals pushing towards the top, Virat Kohli’s side has stayed at the top consistently.
Again, that should be 'Chris Gayle's side', such is their dependency on him. The skipper, other players, the team management and the franchise owners will all tell you that they are not. It isn’t a lie really. Kohli and AB de Villiers can hold their own against any bowling attack as can Tillakaratne Dilshan, if he fires that is.
Then they have 10 medium-pacers and nearly five spinners in their huge squad. Yet, no one dominates a T20 game in this world like Gayle does and his knock of 175 not out was proof enough.
In the 1983 World Cup in England, Kapil Dev batted for nearly 60 overs against Zimbabwe to score as many runs. At that time, it was considered a belligerent knock.
Time has passed quickly and definitions have changed. That day, when Gayle batted, he needed only 66 balls to score 175 runs. The fastest ever hundred in cricket (across all formats), 13 fours and 17 sixes, and a real possibility of a double hundred in T20 cricket.
The problem which Bangalore face is that it all seems very good while it lasts. The law of averages catches up sooner than later and then what they do will be very interesting. Can they chase down 180-plus when Gayle doesn’t fire, Dilshan doesn’t give them a good start and Kohli/De Villiers fail as well?
Can their bowlers defend a 120-run target? What if these scenarios play out in the knock-outs or in the final, when it really matters? We will eventually find out, because at the current pace, that is where the Royal Challengers are headed.
The Sunrisers from Hyderabad and Royals from Rajasthan have been the surprise packages. Pre-tournament estimates saw them finishing mid-table, maybe Rajasthan scrapping for a top-four spot. They are doing so with ease instead, led ably by Rahul Dravid. Shane Watson is just about hitting top-form, and but for Gayle, his hundred would have been celebrated this week.
Hyderabad’s bowling continues to be in good shape and Amit Mishra taking yet another IPL hat-trick is an indicator of that. It was a mad-scrap win against Pune Warriors in the past week. Even so, their loss to Kolkata Knight Riders at Eden Gardens and Rajasthan’s subsequent loss to Chennai Super Kings indicate that these two teams may not have the quality to compete towards the end of the league.
Things will get tight and better teams will raise the ante. Collecting points now will help but will they be able to raise their game as well?
Those teams will be Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai Indians. They are the perennial favourites, defending champions and big spenders, in that order, and possess enough quality to win a couple of games, garnering enough momentum out of it.
Chennai are just getting there, having moved up into the top four with a couple of recent wins. Kolkata enjoy superb home advantage, yet their problem is only finishing games, and their move to elevate Yusuf Pathan should pay off eventually, if they stick with it long enough.
Mumbai have a problem though. They need to up their game, as all teams in the middle do, but having a foreign player as captain is a bit of a stickler. By dropping Ricky Ponting, they are changing leadership (strategies and everything) midway through the tournament. How do you win with two different ideologies?
At the other of their spectrum are Kings XI Punjab. They have made equal use of their opportunities as Mumbai Indians and have done well to garner eight points so far, sitting one spot above the wealthy team, yet they look to have the same issues as Hyderabad and Rajasthan, lacking in quality players, with a misfiring captain in Adam Gilchrist.
The big test for them will not be who they can replace him with, for he is the skipper, period. It lies in what they can do on the away leg of their matches, with a long list now pending, having played quite a few at home. Another eight points should do them good.
It leaves us with two teams, Pune Warriors and Delhi Daredevils. At this point in time, with the latter registering their opening win against Mumbai, it seems a race between the two for the last place. Not where they wanted to be at the start of the season, not where anyone wants to be.
At least Delhi are doing their best to win a couple more games, changing and chopping their starting eleven, mixing up their batting order. What Pune can do to avoid this fate, apart from changing captains, remains to be seen. Can they survive the sucker-punch Gayle delivered them?
© Cricket World 2013
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