It's been a familiar story for Royal Challengers Bangalore in IPL 2019. Start the season full of promise and fire, stumble from one defeat to the next, end it to avoid finishing at the bottom.
In the auctions before IPL 2019, the franchise spent most of its purse on Shimron Hetymyer and Shivam Dube - a combined INR 9.20 crore (USD 1,330,000 approx.). They've both played only four games each out of 13 so far, and their purchase for big sums followed by limited opportunities is symptomatic of what, from the outside, seems another season without clear direction.
It's not been an easy ship to steer for Gary Kirsten, one of the two designated coaches for the franchise, with Ashish Nehra. Kirsten had come on board as a batting consultant in IPL 2018, in which Royal Challengers finished sixth. The year before that, they finished at the bottom. Given the run of poor performances - they have won a combined 13 out of 41 games in three seasons - Kirsten acknowledged that fundamental changes might be needed.
"There are some structural changes that need to be made that have maybe been around for quite a long time," Kirsten said in Bengaluru on Friday. "This is my first year as the head coach, so I've got a better understanding of what those are. We'll certainly discuss with our owners and look into that for next year.
"It's been a disappointing season. Obviously we would have liked to have had better results. I've been very encouraged with the second half of the season, since we only got two points in the first half. But we've won four of our last seven games, and one of them was a rained-out game. So that's kind of back to the kind of consistency you need. We started to really get things going in the second half, but unfortunately, in IPL if you have a bad start you're always going to be struggling."
Kirsten pointed to two losses in particular within the first fortnight of the tournament, which affected Royal Challengers' whole season.
"Two big games that cost us that we should have won at the beginning of the season was [against] Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders here," Kirsten said. "We lost both those games having played really good cricket for 95% of the game. Literally in 12 balls the game changed… in six balls. Those kind of games, if you're not winning them, they start to affect you big time during the season, because we know that IPL is incredibly unpredictable and games that you should be winning, you need to win.
"If you are on the back foot early and you have lost most of your games in the first half, you get into trouble in the second half. We have tried to pull it back. I thought we did a reasonably good job in pulling it back in the second half, but it is always going to be tough winning seven out of seven."
Even as he foresaw operational changes in the franchise, Kirsten hoped the playing core would be exempt, though he admitted Royal Challengers were still searching for a group of players they could come back to, year after year.
"I've always been a fan - as I'm sure all the coaches are in this IPL - of continuity. You want to try and build your core of players and build a culture where you can keep coming back to the same players," Kirsten explained. "I think the most successful franchises in IPL have done that. We're searching for that in RCB. While there might be some structural change next year, I'm hopeful and confident we'll have some continuity in our players.
"Because we need to really start building a core of players that we believe in, and back them. I think the franchises that do a lot of chopping and changing every year run into problems. Because IPL is not about an individual performing every IPL, that's just not going to happen. But if you keep backing guys they are going to come good for you in one season."
The last league game for the team, against Sunrisers Hyderabad at home on Saturday, will be one that Royal Challengers will play without even the mathematical possibility of a playoff spot. The practical possibility had disappeared some time back, and Virat Kohli has reiterated before every game that the team is just looking to enjoy playing the game. However, that enjoyment is tough to channel amid losses.
"My view is you are only having fun when you are winning," Kirsten said with a smile. "I understand the point he (Kohli) is making but it is always tough when you are not winning games. The IPL is an incredibly intense competition. In my view, in domestic T20 cricket around the world, there is nothing even remotely like it and I think all the players feel the pressure, especially guys who are new to the IPL, they come here with their eyes wide open. They cannot believe how intense the games are. Senior players feel that pressure as well."