IPL 2016 May 30, 2016

A record-breaking year, but no title for RCB

Led by the batting feats of Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, Royal Challengers Bangalore overcame a poor start to the season and went all the way to the final, only for their bowling weaknesses to resurface

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Where they finished

Runners-up for the third time

How they got there

When the season started, the Royal Challengers Bangalore line-up looked like a gym enthusiast who never showed up for legs day. Their top half was heavy and frightening, but they had almost nothing to show at the bottom. Samuel Badree and Mitchell Starc were part of the squad but injuries would soon rule both match-winners out of the entire tournament.

Having won only two of their first seven matches, they could not afford to lose more than one of their remaining seven. Their batsmen were firing, barring Chris Gayle, but whether they scored 185 or 191, they simply weren't able to defend, and were unable to settle on a bowling combination. It was like running on a treadmill - they weren't going anywhere.

From that point on, they banked on their home matches. Four of their last seven matches were at the batsman-friendly Chinnaswamy Stadium and their batsmen blazed away to such an extent that their bowlers were left with not much to do. Gayle regained form, while Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, arguably the two best batsmen in the world, reached unreal heights. Kohli hadn't scored a single T20 hundred before this season; now, one century was followed by another, and another, and a fourth one too. Kohli and de Villiers hammered Gujarat Lions, thrashed Kolkata Knight Riders by nine wickets, and Royal Challengers scored three 200-plus totals at home to march unstoppably into the Playoffs. Having been on the brink of being knocked out at one point, they sealed a final berth before anyone else.

Light bowling attack? Weakish middle order? Split webbing for the captain? No problem. By now Royal Challengers' bowling also fell into place. Chris Jordan was roped in, though perhaps later than he could have been, S Aravind was economical, Yuzvendra Chahal's legspinners and floaters were getting him wickets, and Shane Watson led the attack with his cutters and pace variations.

In the final, Royal Challengers ran into the most consistent team of the tournament, Sunrisers Hyderabad, and were trooping towards their target of 209 thanks to a big opening partnership between Gayle and Kohli, but quick wickets and big-stage nerves took over and they ran out of steam.

Highlight

In the 1990s, Old Trafford echoed with the chant "Giggs will tear you apart", celebrating a man who wore red and terrified oppositions. Replace Giggs with Kohli, and the Chinnaswamy could have done the same this IPL season. And he didn't tear oppositions apart all by himself. The bulk of Royal Challengers' weight-lifting was done by Kohli and de Villiers as their record-breaking stand of 219 against Lions underlined how two top batsmen with different styles could deflate any opposition. Together they scored 58% - 1660 runs (Kohli 973 and de Villiers 687) - of the 2863 that Royal Challengers scored off the bat. Kohli alone struck four centuries, a feat that surprised even himself, and stitched four century stands with de Villiers.

Disappointment

A team that had dismissed oppositions three times last season did so only once this time, while defending 248. They only restricted opponents to under 150 three times, towards the end of the tournament. They also struggled to settle on a bowling core they could rely on, with several changes made during the tournament, and all this amounted to an attack that was not all that threatening.

Key stats

  • Royal Challengers' run rate of 9.62 this season is the highest for any team in an IPL campaign. The previous best was also by them, 9.17, in 2015
  • Yuzvendra Chahal is the only spinner to feature among the top 10 wicket-takers this season. Chahal has been the top wicket-taker for Royal Challengers in successive seasons - 23 wickets in 2015 and 21 this time
  • KL Rahul became the first Royal Challengers wicketkeeper to score more than 300 runs in a season; he ended with a tally of 397

Best win

It was conjured when they needed one win after another. The record-breaking 144-run win against Gujarat Lions not only revived their season but also gave them confidence to go all the way to lift the trophy. Almost.

Worst defeat

Having kicked off their campaign with a total of 227 against Sunrisers, Royal Challengers looked to be headed for a second win when they posted a commanding 191 against Delhi Daredevils, but went on to lose as they came in the way of a Quinton de Kock hundred. That loss characterised the early part of the team's season, when their bowling seemed powerless to defend even imposing totals.

What they need most next season

Apart from a menacing bowling arsenal to complement their batting, Royal Challengers need a broad-chested middle order and pool of domestic talent. The final showed that their middle order was perhaps not fully equipped for a day when Kohli, Gayle and de Villiers would not see them through. For how long can Royal Challengers rely only on these match-winners? They could also rope in a couple more Indian bowlers to give them more flexibility given the limit on overseas players in the XI. And lastly but perhaps most importantly, they need a genuine wicketkeeper. KL Rahul is an excellent batsman, but he showed on a number of occasions through the season that the big gloves fit his hands uneasily.

Vishal Dikshit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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