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Feature

The RCB catharsis and the need to go again

They deserved to celebrate qualification into the playoffs but now comes the real test

Alagappan Muthu
Alagappan Muthu
21-May-2024
Royal Challengers Bengaluru had finally earned themselves a moment. They had spent the better part of the last four weeks knowing they could not make even a single mistake. Now they could breathe. But after working so hard, day in, day out, trying to be absolutely perfect, the realisation that it had actually been worth it didn't just bring relief. It brought - as it should have - unmitigated joy.
Yash Dayal produced a dot ball on 19.5 to end even a mathematical possibility of defeat and simply leapt into the arms of his nearest team-mates, which were Dinesh Karthik and Mohammed Siraj, behind the stumps. Into the playoffs from 10th place; from two points after eight games. No team had ever made it from just two points after eight games. At that exact point in time, they needed the release more than they needed a handshake with MS Dhoni.
This was the reality RCB were working towards but also one they probably couldn't spend too much time thinking about. Their focus had to be narrow. On the next game. Only on the next game. Essentially, they were trying to build a complicated jigsaw puzzle, after coming in late, and the only way they were going to do it, even though they were always up against it, was piece by piece. It took until the last second for the picture to finally emerge and when it did, when they realised what they had accomplished, RCB set their discipline aside and celebrated.
Faf du Plessis, who confessed a certain amount of helplessness because of the lack of cutting edge in the bowling attack, needed to conjure one. He turned to Swapnil Singh, who seems rather in tune with what batters like to do in T20s, and insists on giving them the opposite. He has six wickets from 13 overs at an economy rate of 8.76. Du Plessis turned to Lockie Ferguson, who recovered from two difficult outings against the two most dangerous batting units this IPL to string figures of 2 for 29, 2 for 23 and 1 for 39. He turned to Yash Dayal, who went for 50 twice in two nights and then turned up against Sunrisers Hyderabad with 1 for 18 from three overs. He turned and they responded. Their fortunes turned and they went wild.
Virat Kohli, who had already learnt how to be prolific had to learn how to be prolific while also taking risks. He welcomed the moment of their qualification with hip thrusts and double fist pumps. Nobody does catharsis quite like him. Only he probably needn't have turned around and sprayed at the crowd behind him. And the RCB fans needn't have taunted their CSK counterparts as they were leaving the ground. Going overboard celebrating victory is fine. Going overboard celebrating the opposition's defeat is less so.
Nine wickets and 24 balls remaining. Four wickets and 34 balls remaining. Sixty runs. Forty runs. And finally 27 runs. These aren't margins of victory. They're declarations. They're dying light suddenly deciding to go supernova. RCB are irresistible when they're in this mood. In fact, there's reason to compare them to one of the best in the world. They certainly do the Galacticos part right.
"This is how we win" is a familiar chant at the Santiago Bernabéu, home to Real Madrid. And it comes up when the team is behind and it looks for all money that they would crash out. RCB were supposed to crash out in 2016. Instead, they won four must-win matches in a row, and Qualifier 1, to make the final. They did seven in a row after losing three in a row in 2011. Now it is six in a row, the wrong way first and then the right way, taking them into the knockouts to face a side trending in the opposite direction. Rajasthan Royals have lost four in four after winning eight of nine.
RCB looked the more pumped up of the two teams that were at the Chinnaswamy over the weekend. Robin Uthappa noted it on the broadcast and suggested that maybe just for that, they deserved to win. They benefited from being hit for a six. A wet ball that was undermining them was lost and a new one had to be brought out. This one was dry and easier to grip and Dayal was able to nail his slower deliveries.
Intangible strengths. Invisible hand of destiny. Incredible players. Impromptu rise in performance levels. Iconic stadium. Iridescent support. But here comes the point where the parallels screech to a halt. Real hoard trophies. RCB let them slip through their fingers. They have a chance to change that now. It's what they've been fighting for all season.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo