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Match Analysis

Dysfunctional RCB come together to conjure up magic

From being knocked out even before they knew it, they're one game - and a little bit of luck - away from the playoffs

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Three weeks ago, when Royal Challengers Bengaluru fell one short of an epic chase at Eden Gardens, they slumped to their seventh defeat in eight games. Rooted to the bottom of the 10-team table then, you didn't think a miracle was possible.
Glenn Maxwell, their most prolific overseas allrounder, was woefully out of form. Their costliest pre-auction signing, Cameron Green, wasn't clear about his role. Virat Kohli, their biggest brand captain or not, was under the spotlight for his post-powerplay slowdown. Faf du Plessis, the captain, was coming to grips with the challenges of juggling retirement with three months of franchise gigs.
Andy Flower's proven track record as coach - he has won titles as a coach in the PSL, CPL, Hundred, T10 League, ILT20 - is perhaps why he was signed in the first place. But the lack of a big Indian presence in the back room left you wondering if they had tactically erred many times over by not picking Mahipal Lomror in the middle order.
You asked what more Vyshak Vijaykumar, who had dream figures of 4-0-23-1 at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium against KKR, had to do to be considered regularly. Why wasn't Anuj Rawat, one of your scouting picks from three years ago, far from assured of a spot in the XI despite proving his batting chops in the very first game at Chepauk, where RCB haven't won in 15 years?
The lack of a genuine spinner after the infamous calls around Yuzvendra Chahal first and Wanindu Hasaranga next left them scraping the sides for somebody who could turn his arm over. Karn Sharma, the most experienced of the lot, had played two games. You didn't quite know if they trusted Swapnil Singh, 33 and barely with any IPL experience prior to this, enough.
Rajat Patidar, who could've so famously been consigned to the sidelines if not for a mid-season injury to Luvnith Sisodia in 2022, was amid a form crisis that seemed to have blown over from the India-England Tests. He was a floater without a proper batting number, adjusting to the demands of the format while battling his own demons.
In short, way too many pieces of the jigsaw, spread across corners RCB thought they'd never be able to access, needed to be pieced together for this dysfunctional outfit to once again compete, forget about conjuring magic.
Yet, here we are, 13 games into the league phase, beginning to wonder if the stars are aligning. Is this their year? A question asked of RCB consistently every year pre-auction. Perhaps it wasn't a legit enough debate this year, but they've shredded that theory to bits, and how! Essentially, way too many results had to go their way, along with them winning, of course, for RCB to even be in the conversation.
Did they believe in this miracle? Their calculators, which they unfailingly dust back to life at this time every year, have been working overtime. There's now a realistic possibility of them securing that fourth playoff spot from under Chennai Super Kings. Or maybe with some help from Gujarat Titans and Punjab Kings, maybe they can edge out Sunrisers Hyderabad? There are so many possibilities.
Who can understate luck amid all this? Sunday evening was meant to be a washout, one of those annual rituals that leave RCB fans tearing their hair out at times for the loss of a point, celebrating in jest at other times for salvaging one point. There was a 60% chance of thunderstorms. Three hours prior to the start, it rained in torrents for an hour.
Miraculously, it cleared up for the entire duration of the game, to give RCB a chance of playing without looking at the DLS. And within an hour of the game finishing, the rain was back. Again in torrents, as if to say even the rain gods didn't want to come in the way of this miracle.
Kohli was out of the blocks in a jiffy - no look six swag and all that. Keenness to prove a point to those in the box? Who knows. Perhaps it was just the feeling of being unshackled and playing with a high tempo on a surface where RCB needed the extra runs to play for the net run rate. In any case, the change in intent has been marked. From going at 9.39 in the powerplay at an average of 34.69 in the first eight, they were now going at 11.10 while averaging 47.57 in the last five.
Kohli was enjoying it so much that even his dismissal didn't quite stir him. It elicited a cheeky sledge from Ishant Sharma, who broke the news of his India call-up many moons ago when they were room-mates, and they exchanged a friendly elbow nudge as he walked off. But while he was there, the hair-raising tempo was evident in his approach.
RCB were denied the Kohli show alright, but Patidar came out all guns blazing. Disdainfully treating Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav, hitting them repeatedly into the stands. As luck would have it, he kept getting dropped too. Shai Hope grassed one at long-on, and Axar let one go at covers. Will Jacks got two reprieves, too. Axar had shelled one around the mid-on region and Tristan Stubbs misjudged one backpedalling at cover. It wasn't just a slice of luck; they were having dollops of it.
RCB had motored at 110 for 2 at the halfway mark, before the Capitals came storming back. Deliveries suddenly began to hold onto the surface, batters began going harder than before, and at times kept losing their shape. Mukesh Kumar was nailing his yorkers and Rasikh Salam was executing his cutters and back-of-the-hand variations from around the wicket. Khaleel Ahmed's lengths were proving hard to get underneath.
This gun all-Indian attack came about only because Anrich Nortje has far from been the threat he once was. And they'd found their mojo, spearheaded by Ishant, the smiling assassin. The end overs were perhaps the only passage when you genuinely wondered if RCB had let things slip. From looking good for 230, they had finished with 187.
Yet, the gods were with them. David Warner nailed a slog sweep but found the lone man at the wide long-on boundary. Jake Fraser-McGurk, the first batter to hit three IPL fifties below 20 balls in a single season, began like a runaway train, hitting 21 off seven. You wondered if he was onto something, until you saw Yash Dayal's palm come in the way of a rasping straight hit that deflected onto the stumps at the bowler's end to run him out.
How lucky could RCB get that they didn't then have to see Rishabh Pant walking out to bat? Out suspended for poor over-rates, he was replaced by a nervous Kumar Kushagra, who was out to a wild Mohammed Siraj in-ducker. The umpire's finger went up even before Siraj turned around to belt out an appeal.
Hope flickered briefly for DC, but Green snuffed that out with a direct hit to run out Stubbs with a clean pick-up and throw back to the non-striker's end. With Axar threatening a coup, there was a wisp of thunder, the rumbling of clouds gathering overhead. The winds picked up and you wondered if there was another twist.
It wasn't to be. The rains held off for RCB to conjure magic of the kind not many expected. Their batting tempo that was unlocked in despair - they found themselves chasing 277 and 232 back-to-back - will now possibly be a fascinating case study. On Saturday, it could be put to one final test against CSK.
The stakes couldn't have been higher. From being knocked out even before they knew it, they're one game, and a little bit of luck, away from the playoffs.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo