Former India opener and two-time IPL-winning captain Gautam Gambhir believes it's time for the Royal Challengers Bangalore to look beyond Virat Kohli as captain. Gambhir made his comments on ESPNcricinfo's show T20 Time Out after the Royal Challengers lost the Eliminator to the Sunrisers Hyderabad by six wickets, ending their season with seven wins and eight losses. Since finishing runners-up in 2016, the Royal Challengers have ended at the bottom in two of the last three seasons - 2019 and 2017 - apart from finishing sixth in 2018. This time, they scraped into the playoffs on net run-rate despite a strong start to their campaign, but crashed out on Friday night with their fifth straight loss after not being able to defend 131.
Under Kohli's captaincy since 2013, the Royal Challengers have made the playoffs three times in eight seasons. Gambhir said it was time Kohli put his hand up and took responsibility for the results.
When asked if he would change the captaincy if he was in charge of the franchise, Gambhir said: "100%, because the problem is about accountability. Eight years into the tournament [without a trophy], eight years is a long time. Tell me any other captain… forget about captain, tell me any other player who would have got eight years and wouldn't have won the title and would have still continued with it. So it has to be accountability. A captain needs to take accountability.
"It's not only about one year, it's not only about this. I have nothing against Virat Kohli but somewhere down the line, he needs to put his hand up and say, 'yes, I am responsible, I am accountable'.
"Eight years is a long, long time. Look at what happened to R Ashwin. Two years of captaincy [for the Kings XI Punjab], he couldn't deliver and he was removed. We talk about MS Dhoni, we talk about Rohit Sharma, we talk about Virat Kohli... not at all. Dhoni has won three [IPL] titles, Rohit Sharma has won four titles, and that's the reason they've captained for such a long time because they've delivered. I'm sure if Rohit Sharma wouldn't have delivered for eight years, he would have been removed as well. There should not be different yardsticks for different people.
"The problem and the accountability starts from the top, not from the management nor the support staff, but from the leader. You're the leader, you're the captain. When you get the credit, you should take the criticism as well.
"You can keep saying 'we qualified for the playoffs and we deserved to qualify for the playoffs', absolutely not. RCB actually never deserved to qualify for the playoffs. If you see the last four or five games, and even that one Super Over against Mumbai Indians, they were very fortunate that Navdeep Saini bowled that over brilliantly. Otherwise they didn't have a great season. From the batting point of view and the bowling.
"Eight years is a long time. It's not that Kohli isn't experienced. He captains India, he captains whichever team he plays for, but you've got to give results, you've got to deliver. Sport is all about delivering."
The Royal Challengers opened the batting with Kohli for the first time this season on Friday, after 14 games. Gambhir said if Kohli had to open, it should have happened right from the start of the season, instead of changing the combination in a knockout game.
"There was so much talk about Virat Kohli opening the batting, if you wanted to open the batting, you should have done that right from the start of the tournament," Gambhir said. "And then they should have had a squad, probably if Virat wanted to open, they should have picked a middle-order batter in the auction. But again it was all about Virat and AB [de Villiers]."
The Royal Challengers' reliance on Kohli and de Villiers continued. Even though their leading scorer this time was 20-year-old opener Devdutt Padikkal with a tally of 473, closely followed by Kohli (466) and de Villiers (454), an inexperienced middle order meant they were dependent on de Villiers yet again for strong finishes. De Villiers struck five half-centuries - including one on Friday - and ended IPL 2020 with a strike rate of nearly 159.
"Imagine if AB would have had a bad season, tell me what would have happened to RCB," Gambhir said. "He was the one who actually won them two or three games out of seven. I don't think as a unit they've done anything different from what they did last year. It's exactly the same this year as well. Only because you've qualified for the playoffs, just because of one individual's absolute brilliance, it doesn't make you a strong contender to win the IPL."
Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar agreed with Gambhir on the show about the change in leadership required for the Royal Challengers, but he said the onus for that was with the owners of the franchise.
"The onus is not so much with the captain himself, it's got to be with the owners because they are the people who appoint the captain and decide what kind of leadership they want for the team," Manjrekar said. "A couple of years back I had made this comment that when you look at what's going wrong with RCB, you'll see that the results are not at all good and what's been the same has been the leadership in the team. For a long time Daniel Vettori was Virat's coach, and the captain has been the same.
"If you want to change the scenario and a change of results, you've got to change the captain. But I'm not expecting Virat Kohli to put his hand up and say, 'I have not delivered'. I want the owners to do their job. If at all RCB are not winning the title, firstly I'll hold the owners responsible for not having the right leader to perhaps give them the winning results and the planning that has gone all along."
Gambhir also said he felt for the support staff of the franchise, which has changed over the years, while the captain has remained the same. Gambhir said it was "very difficult" for people like Simon Katich and Mike Hesson because if the coaches or directors of the team were "blunt" and asked for the captain to be removed, "they'll be the first ones to be removed".
"Hopefully, this could be the final sort of… where the penny will drop for the franchise. So good luck to RCB," Manjrekar said.