I insisted RCB buy a lot of bowlers - Kohli
At the IPL auction in February, Royal Challengers Bangalore picked up three of the five Indian seam bowlers on offer in RP Singh, Jaydev Unadkat and Pankaj Singh, apart from West Indies pacer Ravi Rampaul. Strengthening the pace attack, new captain Virat Kohli has said, was something he "insisted on".
"In Bangalore, if the wicket's nice and fresh, the ball does seam around. Last year we were not to our 100% because of injuries to bowlers - we had to persist with a set of bowlers that did not probably work for us. So, this year, I insisted that we pick a lot of bowling options," Kohli said on the eve of Royal Challengers' game against Mumbai Indians.
"With Indian bowlers, if you don't have the regular guys doing well, then you always have six or seven fresh options who can come into the side and are confident."
Kohli, who will be the full-time captain of a senior side for the first time on Thursday night, said that decision demonstrated his faith in his team's batsmen: "Our batting has been doing well for the last three years consistently. I was showing confidence in the batsmen."
Royal Challengers had a disappointing IPL 5, failing to make it to the playoffs. Over the last couple of years, Kohli had lead the team when regular captain Daniel Vettori had fitness issues. He admitted he had made a few mistakes, but said he hoped to learn from all that: "I've always enjoyed captaincy, last year and the year before that too. There were a few off moments, like in 2011 we played Kings XI Punjab in Dharamsala and I got the bowling combination wrong, and we ended up giving 220 runs on a green wicket. I was not too good with the field placements either but, yes, all that was a good learning curve."
Apart from missing out on the experience of the injured Zaheer Khan in the Mumbai game - recovering from a side strain, Zaheer is "70-80%" fit - Royal Challengers will also not have Anil Kumble to lean on. Kumble, for the first time, will be part of the opposition camp at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, having joined Mumbai Indians as chief mentor after stepping down from a similar role with the Bangalore franchise. Kohli said he learnt a lot by observing Kumble's working style: "He was always someone who would help the players in any way we wanted. Whether it was any sort of issues or about cricket.
"One thing he liked was always giving his 100% on the field, and he expected the other players to be the same. He kept pushing the players to perform but if he thought the players were down, he would then pull the load off the team all by himself. So that was something that was very striking in his captaincy and it's something I would like to implement in our team as well."
Mumbai, too, will take the field with a new captain and minus their pace spearhead - Lasith Malinga is recovering from a sore back and will only join the team on April 5. Ricky Ponting takes charge for them, and he said he was looking forward to the challenge after a "refreshing" Australian domestic season. "I knew my time was up as far as captaincy in Australian cricket is concerned, so finishing the season with Tasmania and being just a regular player in the side was quite refreshing for me.
"But I've known about the captaincy of Mumbai Indians for a couple of months now and I've been excited about that. With the squad of players we've got to work with, why won't you be excited?"
Unlike Royal Challengers, Mumbai's main concern is the batting. Last season they fielded 24 players in all, and tried several opening combinations without much success. This is something he is looking to address, Ponting said: "Over the last couple of seasons we've swapped and changed and had different combinations opening. Guys have gone in and out of the side quite regularly. That tends to happen when you're not winning games.
"What we want to do this year is get off to a good start, and try and keep a pretty settled group of players together through the tournament. Barring injuries, hopefully we'll be able to do that."
Much talk in the lead-up to the tournament has centred around Ponting having to share a dressing room with Harbhajan Singh and Sachin Tendulkar, both of whom played central roles in the 2008 Sydney Test's controversy. Ponting said the trio was getting along fine. "I've really enjoyed their company over the last couple of days. Just having those experienced minds around will hold the team in good stead through the tournament."
Nikita Bastian is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo