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April 2, 2013
Big PictureTwo-time finalists and yet, no cup. Royal Challengers Bangalore have choked at the wrong moments and it must be frustrating for their supporters that a team with the likes of Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers - possibly the best T20 batsmen around - haven't gone all the way. The feeling of unfulfilled promise was evident in 2012, when the team finished a disappointing fifth. They ended level on 17 points with Chennai Super Kings, who finished fourth in the league, but missed the playoffs because of a marginally inferior net run-rate after losing their last match to eighth-placed Deccan Chargers. In all, they won eight and lost seven out of 16 games, and had one washout.
The over-dependence on overseas stars and lukewarm showing by the Indian players were the main reasons for their failure to make the playoffs. Gayle was the tournament's top scorer (733), hit the most sixes (59) and scored 31% of the team's runs. Virat Kohli, with 364 runs, was second for Royal Challengers. Zaheer Khan and Vinay Kumar failed to contain the runs consistently and the team rarely found the right combination.
A significant change ahead of this season is in the leadership. Kohli takes over as captain from Daniel Vettori and it will be an examination of his leadership skills, given he is touted to be India's next captain. He has the backing of his coach Ray Jennings, who said he saw captaincy material in Kohli three years ago. With Vettori returning from injury - he has missed New Zealand's recent commitments - it made sense for Royal Challengers to look for a new captain for the long haul.
The bowling needed attention after last year's showing. At the February auction, the team went with the strategy of beefing up their seam reserves, buying seven fast bowlers - four specialists and three allrounders - four of them overseas picks. Their batting hasn't been tinkered with. Zaheer hasn't been feeling a million bucks over the last few months, down with fitness issues and dropped for the home Tests against Australia. Royal Challengers will need him to get his form and confidence back to lead the seam attack.
Key playersRoyal Challengers' overseas players are available throughout the tournament. Much will depend on Gayle, de Villiers and Tillakaratne Dilshan to provide electric starts. The expectations on Kohli will also increase.
Big players inLeft-arm spinner Murali Kartik was bought outside the player auction and it could be a wise move by the team, given his experience. It's his third IPL team, after Kolkata Knight Riders and Pune Warriors. He adds to the wealth of spin options, with Muttiah Muralitharan and Vettori in the mix.
Big players outDirk Nannes was part of the squad last year but never got a game, due to the paucity of overseas slots. He is currently the second-highest wicket-taker in T20s, after Alfonso Thomas. He was bought by Chennai Super Kings for $600,000, where he is likely to get more opportunities.
Under the radarIt's ironic that RP Singh should be considered 'under the radar', considering that he's currently third-highest wicket-taker in the IPL with 74 wickets. He was one of the several seamers bought in the auction ($400,000). He last played for India - out of the blue - in 2011 and hasn't been in contention for a recall. His recent domestic form hasn't been spectacular either, with five wickets in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20. The coming IPL could spark a revival, if he is given the opportunities.
AvailabilityDe Villiers is likely to miss at least the opening game, due to his wedding. Cheteshwar Pujara is also doubtful for the opening games because of a finger injury sustained during the Australia Tests. S Aravind, the left-arm seamer, is out injured and he has been replaced by his Karnataka team-mate KL Rahul, a right-hand batsman. When Royal Challengers travel to Chennai, the Sri Lankans Muralitharan and Dilshan will be forced to sit out. Vettori, if picked to tour England, could be available only through April.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Kanishkaa Balachandran
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala