Wednesday 3 March 2010 

IPL Cricket: IPL 2010 Preview - Royal Challengers Bangalore

IPL 2010 Preview - Royal Challengers Bangalore
IPL 2010 Preview - Royal Challengers Bangalore
 

Team Owner: Vijay Mallya

The Bangalore-based UB Group is a corporation of diverse companies having a sharp focus on the brewery and alcoholic beverages industry. Under the chairmanship of Vijay Mallya, the group has flourished into a conglomerate of over 60 companies in India and abroad. In India, they market most of its beer under the name Kingfisher, which is also the name of their domestic-cum-international airlines. Apart from being a dogged businessman, he also has a passion for cars and sports, especially Formula One and horse-racing. He is the first Indian to own a Formula One team, Force India.

The Bangalore franchise of the IPL was won by Vijay Mallya, who paid USD111.6 million for it in the auction held in 2007. It was the second highest bid for a franchise, next only to Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries' bid of $111.9 million for the Mumbai team.

Squad: Anil Kumble (captain), KP Apanna, Balachandra Akhil, Mark Boucher (wicket-keeper), Rahul Dravid, Dillon Du Preez, Sreevats Goswami, Jacques Kallis, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Praveen Kumar, Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun, Eoin Morgan, Manish Pandey, Kevin Pietersen, Steven Smith, S Sriram, Dale Steyn, Ross Taylor, Robin Uthappa, Roelof Van Der Merwe, Cameron White.

Coach: Ray Jennings

Ray Jennings's career as a keeper-batsman almost entirely spanned South Africa's year of isolation. He was South Africa's number one choice behind the stumps for more than a decade, but limited to only 14 appearances for his country against rebel touring sides. When South Africa returned to the fold he was expected to be handed the gloves, even though he was then 38, as much as a reward for his service as anything, but the selectors opted to pick Dave Richardson.

Jennings, a fitness fanatic and disciplinarian, started coaching at Gauteng before moving to Easterns and from there to South Africa A. His appointment as South Africa's coach came in October 2004, surprising many as he had a reputation as speaking too bluntly for some of a more sensitive nature which has more than once landed him in hot water. He didn’t have a very successful stint with them and after the first season disaster replaced Martin Crowe as the coach of this IPL franchise, where he has had much better results.

2009 Record: Runners-up    
2008 Record: Seventh

Their story so far in the IPL has been no less exciting than the eventual 2009 champions Deccan Chargers. They had gotten off to the worst start possible in 2008. They were not only defeated on the ground but in a way humiliated on their home turf when Kolkata Knight Riders’ Brendon McCullum (158 not out off 73 balls) ground them into submission in the first ever IPL game. It was a crushing blow from which they really couldn’t recover and there were problems galore during the tournament’s course as they managed only four wins to finish a lowly seventh. Only one of their frontline batsmen, skipper Rahul Dravid managed to score more than 300 runs in the tournament and they had to even bench their costliest foreign player, Jacques Kallis, due to his poor form. The failure incensed owner Vijay Mallya so much that he announced a host of changes for the second season.

In South Africa last year, they started well with a win in their first game under new captain Kevin Pietersen but a string of four losses meant that they were once again staring at an early exit from contention. That is when Pietersen had to leave for England duty and Anil Kumble became their third captain in two seasons. Kumble’s intensity had an immediate impact on the team as they won seven out of their remaining nine games to finish third in the league and qualify for the semis.

In the semi-final, they shocked 2008 finalist Chennai Super Kings by six wickets and were well on their way in the final as well, having restricted Deccan Chargets to just 143 in their twenty overs. But the pressure of the chase got to them and they ended runners-up by a mere 6 runs. Even so, Vijay Mallya couldn’t have been happier with his team’s performance.

Strengths & Weaknesses:

A major headache awaits Anil Kumble and Ray Jennings when they sit to pick their first choice eleven. It is a problem of plenty and not a bad one to have unless it affects the balance of the side, which is exactly the point here. The foreign players for this side are all match winners in their right and it will be a major riddle to select the best four out of them. Sample this list: Jacques Kallis, Ross Taylor, Roelef Van der Merwe, Mark Boucher, Dale Steyn, Dillon Du Preez, Steven Smith and Cameron White. And this list doesn’t include Kevin Pietersen, new signing Eoin Morgan and Jesse Ryder. While the first two will be away for most part due to international duties, the Kiwi is out injured.

Even so, selecting four of those remaining names means that the balance of the side will be seriously tinkered with every time they have to make a change. This will place a lot of onus on the Indian players, young and old. And unless the whole equation comes out right, they will struggle to find the right combination on the Indian pitches. Why are pitches important here? Because playing in South Africa allowed their foreign players to have a bigger say in the scheme of things than they did in the first season.

Jacques Kallis and Ross Taylor especially were changed players. Though Taylor might yet again fire in the batting friendly conditions here again in India, Kallis may struggle a bit with his bowling. The other question mark pertaining to him is whether he can regain his touch with the bat from last year when it seemed he could do no wrong as a 33-year-old T20 player.

And so the pressure to perform will be high on the likes of Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Virat Kohli, Praveen Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun, Vinay Kumar and Sreevats Goswami. A couple of these players have had a brilliant domestic season, Kohli has been making waves on the ODI scene but again the untested ones remain a problem. Rahul Dravid and Kumble were exceptional last year and so they would have to be this season as well. With their age, form and fitness again a bit of a talking point, it remains to be seen if the Bangalore Royal Challengers can go one better than last time.

Player to watch out for: Manish Pandey

Who can forget the maiden T20 century by an Indian player that he scored last year? It was a remarkable innings in every way; beautiful cover drives, flourishing punches through square, magnificent well-timed flicks through mid-wicket and most of all it showed the temperament that this young boy possesses to play a big innings on a bigger stage. And back then, he was a raw cricketer.

Twelve months later, he has a pretty successful season of Ranji cricket under his belt, ending up with 889 runs from nine games - that’s the highest runs scored by any batsman in the season. And so his elevation has come naturally and is no surprise to any who have seen him bat. This inevitably means that unlike last year, when he was just another player who made up the numbers and got the odd chance in the side, this time around he will be one of Royal Challengers’ frontline players. With an increase in expectations, and the T20 World Cup looming, will he deliver? The answer might be the key to Bangalore’s fortunes in the 2010 IPL season.

Chetan Narula
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