RCB in IPL 2017: Back where they started

Royal Challengers' batting struggle this season is reminiscent of their performance in the inaugural IPL season ESPNcricinfo Ltd

When the IPL started back in 2008, most teams were unsure about how to handle the 20-over format. Some teams, though, handled the uncertainty worse than others. Royal Challengers Bangalore, in all their collective wisdom, put their trust in batsmen adept at the longer format, hoping that they would adapt to 20-over cricket. The result was a disaster.

Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid, Jacques Kallis and co. struggled to cope with the requirements of the format, and Royal Challengers limped to second-last place; only Deccan Chargers were poorer.

That early failure became a distant memory, though, as in recent years Royal Challengers revamped their team and their strategy completely, becoming one of the most exciting and top-heavy batting units in the competition. With Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli and Shane Watson in the mix (and Tillakaratne Dilshan in a few earlier seasons), their top order has been the envy of other teams.

Which is why it has been so shocking to see the way the 2017 season has panned out for them. In terms of their win-loss record, batting average and strike rate, this season has been depressingly similar to the corresponding numbers in 2008. In fact, their average, run rate and balls per boundary are all marginally worse than in 2008, and they have been racking up records for all the wrong reasons.

In 2008, the numbers were not entirely unexpected, given the nature of batsmen in their line-up. This time, it has shocked all pundits. It is true that the unavailability of KL Rahul, plus the early injuries to Kohli and de Villiers hurt the team badly, but the turnaround that was expected once de Villiers and Kohli returned has never happened (save for a rare show of brilliance against Gujarat Lions).

The contrast from their batting numbers of 2016 couldn't be any starker. Last year, with their top order full of confidence, they racked up amazing numbers, scoring almost 42 runs per wicket at a run rate of 9.62 - both stats being the best by any team in a season. They also struck a four or a six every 4.90 balls, compared to one every 7.18 balls in 2017. From a season which was their best ever in terms of batting stats, Royal Challengers have turned in easily their worst batting performance in a season.

Last season, the quartet of Kohli, de Villiers, Gayle and Watson had a combined average of 43.04, at a strike rate of 155.2 (2066 runs in 1331 balls). This season, they have struggled to 585 runs from 485 balls, at an average of 27.86, and a strike rate of 120.6; Kohli has a strike rate of 123, Gayle 124.6 and de Villiers 125.4. That is in the Dravid territory - in the 2008 season, he averaged 28.53 at a strike rate of 124.5 in 14 innings. With conditions at the Chinnaswamy Stadium not aiding strokeplay either, this has been a tough season for a set of players from whom plenty was expected. For Royal Challengers, the IPL has come a full circle in its tenth season.