More holes than Gayle could plug
Where they finished
An agonising fifth: Royal Challengers Bangalore ended level with Chennai Super Kings, who finished fourth in the league, on 17 points but missed the playoffs because of a marginally inferior net run-rate after losing their last match to eighth-placed Deccan Chargers. Royal Challengers won eight and lost seven out of 16 games, and had one washout.
By the end of the league stage, Chris Gayle was IPL 2012's top scorer, with 733 runs; Shikhar Dhawan was second with 569. Among batsmen with at least 400 runs, Gayle's strike-rate - 160.74 - was also second best; Virender Sehwag had 484 at 164.62. Gayle also had the most 50-plus scores, eight (one century, seven half-centuries) in 14 innings; Gautam Gambhir had six in 15.
Gayle hit 59 sixes; Kevin Pietersen, Cameron White and Sehwag together hit only 59. Thirteen of Gayle's sixes came during a 128 off 62 balls against Delhi Daredevils, equalling the record for most sixes in an IPL innings. He hit a six every eight balls on average during the season. He hit a boundary (sixes and fours) every four balls.
There was method to the madness as well. Gayle would often start slowly and play himself in before feeling settled enough to begin relentless hitting. For someone who scored breathtakingly quickly and primarily through the air, Gayle's performances were relatively risk-free. He contributed 31% of Royal Challengers' runs.
Gayle's performance this season isn't especially surprising, though, because he was as dazzling for Royal Challengers in IPL 2011, after he was signed by them as a replacement for Dirk Nannes. What is surprising, however, is how Royal Challengers managed to retain Gayle for peanuts, relatively speaking, instead of him going into the auction pool, where he would certainly have been bought for more than the $550,000 Royal Challengers paid him. Maybe Gayle was just being loyal since Royal Challengers picked him after everyone shunned him at the 2011 auction?
Royal Challengers bid $1m for Vinay Kumar, making him the third most expensive purchase at the 2012 auction after Ravindra Jadeja ($2 million + undisclosed secret tiebreaker bid) and Mahela Jayawardene ($1.4 million). Vinay took 19 wickets in the league matches, fourth highest overall and the highest among Indian bowlers. Most of his wickets were of proper batsmen as well. His economy rate, however, was 8.59 over 55.5 overs, the third worst, after Amit Singh and Veer Pratap Singh, among bowlers who bowled a minimum of 30 overs this season. Royal Challengers lacked a quality fifth bowling option and Vinay's profligacy exacerbated an insurmountable problem.
When Vinay bowled in the first 15 overs of the innings his economy was 7.14 per over, and in the first six it was 6.80. When he bowled in the last five overs, though, he conceded 10.85 runs on average. Also, 11 of his 19 wickets were in the last five overs, when batsmen usually swing with abandon. Royal Challengers continued to persist with Vinay at the death, though, because he was a front-line medium-pacer and they didn't really have alternatives.
AB de Villiers v Dale Steyn, round one, Chinnaswamy Stadium. Chasing 182, Royal Challengers needed 76 off 37 deliveries against Deccan Chargers when de Villiers began his innings. By the time Tillakaratne Dilshan and Mayank Agarwal were dismissed, they needed 39 off 18. Steyn, who had two overs remaining, had conceded only seven in his first two. What followed dropped several jaws. De Villiers nimbly used the width and depth of his crease to adapt to the world's fastest, and possibly best, bowler's line and lengths. He moved back to short balls and forward to slower ones, pulling between deep midwicket and long-on. He then moved back and towards leg to alter the length of a yorker and smite it over extra cover, before shuffling outside off to scoop over short fine leg. De Villiers took 23 runs off Steyn's third over and after that Anand Rajan stood no chance. Royal Challengers won with seven balls to spare.
That Royal Challengers stayed in the competition as long as they did was largely due to their overseas batsmen. The Indians, Virat Kohli and Saurabh Tiwary in particular, were below-par. Kohli, who was the only player Royal Challengers retained in 2011, scored 364 runs at a strike rate of 111.65. Combined with an average of 28, those figures are not terrible, but Royal Challengers needed much more from him, especially since Kohli was in terrific limited-overs form coming into the IPL.
Saurabh Tiwary was bought for $1.6m in the 2011 auction. He didn't do much to justify his price tag that year, and he's done lesser this year. Tiwary scored 191 runs in 11 innings, at an average of 24 and strike-rate of 112, unimpressive figures considering Royal Challengers' home venue probably had the best batting pitches of the tournament. His fielding was often clumsy for a 22-year old.
Royal Challengers rarely found the right combination. Had their Indians been in form, they would have had excellent team balance, but because Kohli and Tiwary were struggling, their batting line-up was overly reliant on Gayle and de Villiers. And because Zaheer Khan and Vinay didn't pull their weight, and due to the lack of a quality Twenty20 allrounder, their bowling struggled to contain and took far fewer wickets compared to the competition. The upshot was that, at the business end of the league, Royal Challengers' tail started at No. 7 but the five-man specialist bowling attack wasn't very good apart from Muttiah Muralitharan.
They had tried Daniel Vettori and Murali in tandem before deciding they needed a third overseas player who could bat; so Murali was dropped. They tried using Andrew McDonald as an allrounder, and although he was economical with the ball, McDonald did not strengthen the batting enough. So Dilshan became a permanent fixture at the top of the order, and that worked to an extent. The bowling, however, was at its weakest and eventually Vettori, the captain, began to sit out to allow Murali into the XI. The Royal Challengers think-tank did not think it necessary to strengthen a misfiring pace attack by playing either Dirk Nannes, the highest T20 wicket-taker, or Charl Langeveldt, who was renowned for his death bowling during his South Africa career. The batting was too shallow to sacrifice an overseas batsman. In the end, there were more holes than plugs.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo