Top order, bowling give RCB memorable season
After three underachieving seasons, Royal Challengers Bangalore finally had reasons to be happy.
Their quick course-corrections after a few defeats revealed a team that was tactically agile. Their bowling continued to be top-notch with Mitchell Starc continuing his fantastic form and the Indian complement of Yuzvendra Chahal, Harshal Patel and S Aravind punching above its weight. There was vital all-round intervention from David Wiese as well.
The batting department, on the other hand, was largely a three-man assault system in AB de Villiers (513 runs), Chris Gayle (491) and Virat Kohli (505). While the first two were more about pounding opponents to dust, Kohli was the more composed counterpoint, fortifying one end and finishing games.
Their Indian batsmen didn't do as much consistently enough, but Daniel Vettori, the team's head coach, thought otherwise. "There's limited opportunities when those three guys step up. You can't expect the same amount of runs from the middle order," he said after the loss to Chennai Super Kings in the second Qualifier. "Mandeep (Singh) won us two games. Everytime he's asked to perform, he did. Sarfaraz (Khan) similarly. He only had two opportunities to score runs, once against Rajasthan Royals and once today (against Chennai Super Kings), and he did that."
Vettori admitted his team had "battled for balance" last year. "I was really content with the make-up of the side this year. This year we got it right and we are really happy with the improvement."
Royal Challengers' 71-run victory against Royals in the Eliminator was a tour de force of everything that had carried them up to that point. One of the Big Three - de Villiers - stepped up with the bat; Mandeep provided a support-act that outshone de Villiers' effort; and some purposeful fielding and bowling: save for Wiese, none of the bowlers went for more than 5.5 runs an over. More importantly, the performance revealed a willingness to embrace the pressure of the big stage.
They would be grateful that their lowest point came at the start of the tournament. After winning their opening game, against Kolkata Knight Riders, Royal Challengers lost three games on the trot. This period coincided with injuries to Starc and Adam Milne and the constant shuffling of players to fill up the fourth foreign player's slot. Milne was eventually replaced by Aravind, who turned out to be an excellent value addition.
Top of the class
It would only be fair to say that Starc was the catalysing force behind Royal Challengers' turnaround. He carried his form from the World Cup to pick up 20 wickets at an average of 14.55 with an economy rate of 6.76 runs an over. His was an intimidating presence both at the start and end of an innings.
With 141 runs from 11 innings at an average of 12.81, Dinesh Karthik was barely the middle-order marshall that Royal Challengers would have wanted when they picked him up for Rs 10.5 crore at the auction. The team resisted the temptation to replace him with another wicketkeeper, Manvinder Bisla, and hoped for that one telling contribution which never came. But Vettori called him "amazing from a wicket-keeping perspective and a leadership perspective".
Tip for 2016
If there would be one criticism of Royal Challengers, it would be their tendency to not go all the way after faltering at crucial junctures. The dropped catches against Super Kings in the second Qualifier potentially dashed their chances of making the final. Also, if the uncapped Indian batsmen could shoulder greater load, it would make them a more rounded unit should the likes of de Villiers, Kohli and Gayle have a bad run.
Arun Venugopal is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo