Another season full of hope. Another season of disappointment. Or was it? Royal Challengers Bangalore have now made it to the playoffs for three seasons in a row. In IPL 2022, they crossed the Eliminator hurdle after two back-to-back misses. On Friday, they ran into an inspired Rajasthan Royals, perhaps a little nervous and lost their way with the bat. A target of 158 was too easy for Royals, who blasted 67 in the powerplay, and eventually romped home with 11 balls to spare.
Mike Hesson, their director of cricket, felt they may have made a better fist of it with 175-180 to defend, but credited Obed McCoy and Prasidh Krishna for their impressive efforts with the ball. McCoy had to cope with the news of his mother's illness back home in the Caribbean, while Prasidh had to channel the hurt of being unable to defend 16 off the final over in Qualifier 1 against Gujarat Titans as he saw David Miller go 6,6,6 to seal the deal.
Both bowlers rose to the occasion to pick up six wickets between them, denying Royal Challengers any momentum at the back end where they lost 5 for 35 in the last five overs. Where McCoy mixed his lengths and pace with subtle variations and a superb back-of-the-hand slower one, Prasidh hit hard lengths, got deliveries to rear up awkwardly, and towards the end, delivered sharp bouncers and a superb yorker.
"It's a fair reflection," Hesson said, when asked if the batting could've been better. "[At] 123 for 3 with five overs to go, we were very much in a position to get potentially 175-180 with [Glenn] Maxwell set along with [Rajat] Patidar. We lost those two wickets and then in the last three overs, Obed McCoy and Krishna bowled nicely, and we struggled to get any momentum. We only got 30 odd off the last five, probably leaving us 20 short."
Hesson was, however, quick to point out how one bad evening with their death overs batting wasn't an overall reflection of where they stood as a team.
"You're always after more power hitters," he said. "I think between Maxwell, who was well set after 15 overs, Patidar has got power, Lomror has power, Shahbaz Ahmed has shown he's got power. We've had a number of guys stand up along with Dinesh Karthik who has been outstanding.
"In the last five overs of the innings, our death run-scoring through the season has been exceptional. It's probably more at the top end where we didn't get that momentum, but other than today, we've pretty much nailed the last five overs of most innings."
Honest about the team's frailties, Hesson was hopeful of the underwhelming performers turning a corner and learning from their mistakes, while also reiterating it wasn't a case of them being dependent on just two or three players, as has been the perception around the group for a long time now.
"If you rely solely on two or three players, you're not going to make it to the playoffs," he said. "The beauty of our side has been we didn't necessarily rely on all of our retained players. We built a squad around our retained players, but we didn't necessarily have to rely on them for every game. That was probably the most pleasing aspect, the fact that so many different players stood out.
"Mohammed Siraj is a fine bowler; he didn't have the best tournament, but we know that he will come back strong. He just didn't get those new ball wickets, didn't get the ball swinging, and lost a little bit of confidence, but as I said, he will bounce back.
"Glenn Maxwell had a good all-round season with both bat and ball - very high strike rate, average close to 30, strike rate of 170 and went for seven an over with the ball. Sure, you always want more, but he's had a pretty good tournament.
"At the top of the order, Virat (Kohli) and Faf (du Plessis). Obviously, we started with Virat at three and moved him to the top and he certainly got better and better as the season went on. Look, he was in really good touch in the last four or five innings. There are always things you want to tweak, when you get knocked out of a tournament, there are always areas we need to improve, but all in all, pleased with the way the team gelled this season."
Hesson picked out the development of a strong Indian core as their biggest takeaway from the season. Rajat Patidar, for example, wasn't even in the original squad, and only came in midway following an injury to Luvnith Sisodia. Two nights ago, he became the first uncapped player to hit an IPL playoff hundred and backed that up with a half-century against Royals on Friday.
Shahbaz Ahmed, the allrounder, featured in every game, playing key roles lower down the order. Harshal Patel, who had a record-breaking 2021 season, overcame personal turmoil with the passing away of his sister. He returned to the bio-bubble despite having had a newborn son the same week and delivered consistently as a death bowler despite a split webbing towards the playoffs.
Dinesh Karthik may have been commentating on the season if he hadn't been motivated enough to make an India comeback. He emerged as one of the best death-overs batters this season, striking at 220 across the 110 deliveries he faced in this period. This earned him yet another comeback to India's T20I squad at 36. Among the overseas players, Josh Hazlewood and Wanindu Hasaranga, the current purple cap holder, were standouts.
"Probably the non-established players, in terms of the fact that they've now established themselves as an Indian core," Hesson said of the positives. "Think about Patidar, Shahbaz, Lomror. From a bowling point of view, Harshal Patel was exceptional. DK came in and performed an incredibly tough role. We really struggled to get consistency and he was probably one of the most consistent players at the back end of the innings.
"They were real strong points. Josh Hazlewood was impressive, Wanindu Hasaranga, at the time of us getting knocked out, has the purple cap, as he got a lot of middle over wickets. We needed a little more in the powerplay from the wickets point of view, and with the bat, we left ourselves with a little bit, but otherwise, we were pretty good."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo