Inconsistency drags RCB down again
Where they finished
Seventh, with five wins from 14 matches.
What went right
Royal Challengers' famed batting arsenal did not click as expected, but AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh all gave glimpses of their undoubted quality. Yuvraj, who at Rs 14 crore ($2.3 million) was the most expensive player in the auction, came into the tournament facing a barrage of criticism following his 21-ball 11 in the World T20 final. He continued to struggle against spin and pace alike early in the tournament here. But then, to his credit and Royal Challengers' delight, he picked up steam as the tournament went along. He scored successive fifties in the latter half of the tournament, against Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Daredevils, which were a throwback to his heydays.
What went wrong
Seventh, runners-up, third, runners-up, fifth, fifth, and seventh. Few other teams in the IPL do inconsistency like Royal Challengers, and their latest campaign was a page-by-page reconstruction of all the problems that pegged them back in previous years - an unthreatening bowling attack, losing games they were set to win, and the loss of key players at key moments. A seam attack comprising Ashok Dinda, Varun Aaron and Mitchell Starc does not inspire the most confidence, and their bowlers' lack of accuracy was perhaps best illustrated in the defeat to Mumbai Indians when they leaked 25 extras - the most this season.
On the batting front, their biggest weapon, Chris Gayle - who was not 100% fit all through - had a very forgettable campaign, accumulating 196 runs from nine innings. Virat Kohli, too, was far below par. The team began with two wins in the UAE, but a stunning last-over loss to Kolkata Knight Riders when it seemed that victory was close, triggered a poor run that included six defeats in seven games - something they ultimately never recovered from.
Whichever way one looks at it, a team with firepower like Gayle, Kohli, Yuvraj and de Villiers should not be finishing second from bottom on the table. Royal Challengers have now failed to reach the playoffs for the third season running.
Royal Challengers' opening partnership was the least successful in this IPL. They tried the most combinations (6), scored the fewest runs (244), had the lowest average (17.42) at the poorest run-rate (6.39).
AB de Villiers was not as explosive as he has been in past seasons, but he still ended as the team's leading run-getter with 395 runs and three fifties from 13 innings. It speaks a lot about his abilities that de Villiers managed such numbers despite batting lower - several times too low, it seemed - down the order. His match-winning efforts included a 41-ball 89 against Sunrisers Hyderabad, and a crucial 28 against Super Kings in Ranchi, where he delivered in difficult spinning conditions to keep Royal Challengers' playoff hopes alive. De Villiers also struck quick half-centuries against Kings XI and Rajasthan Royals, but it summed up Royal Challengers' season that even those knocks came in losing causes.
That the failure of Gayle and patchiness of Kohli that weakened Royal Challengers goes without saying, but there was another factor that left them quite unbalanced: Albie Morkel's no show. Royal Challengers (and Kohli in particular) have seen first-hand just how much damage Albie Morkel can do down the order, but he was unable to replicate the form that made him such a valuable asset for Chennai Super Kings over the years. After just four wickets and 45 runs from seven matches, Albie was dropped. If he had clicked, the fourth overseas player's slot would not have been such a round of musical chairs and the team would have had better balance.
Yuzvendra Chahal's legspin was a silver lining for Royal Challengers. Chahal, who had been released by Mumbai Indians without being given a proper run in the side, ended the season with 12 dismissals and an economy-rate of 7.09 - the second best among uncapped Indians (minimum 10 overs).
Unfortunately for Royal Challengers, the image from their season that is most likely to be etched in everyone's memory is an irate Mitchell Starc going head-to-head against Kieron Pollard in the most heated altercation of the tournament so far. The incident occurred in the 17th over of Mumbai's innings at the Wankhede Stadium, when, after a few words, Starc bowled a delivery in Pollard's direction even as the batsman pulled away. Pollard responded by swinging his bat hard - appearing to threaten to throw it at the bowler - and it slipped out of his hand and fell on the leg side. Both players continued to exchange words before being whisked away from each other. Starc lost 50% of his match fee as a result, while Pollard was penalised 70%, penalties that were quite light on them many agreed.
Sandeep Warrier and Tanmay Mishra.
Anuj Vignesh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo