For Royal Challengers, playing in the IPL in South Africa should have been like playing at home. Three of their top stars in Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Dale Steyn are from South Africa.
Up-and-coming star Roelof van der Merwe also is a South African, as is coach Ray Jennings. And Kevin Pietersen, who led the team till Wednesday, cut his teeth in cricket here in South Africa.
However, things haven’t gone to plan for the Challengers as none of the South African players have performed to the levels expected of them.
While Jacques Kallis has managed just one fifty so far, Boucher hasn’t even got a chance to play all the games (he has won one Man of the Match award, though).
The biggest disappointment for Royal Challengers has been the injury to Steyn. The pacer was supposed to provide the firepower to the attack.
“It has been a mighty blow for us. We had depended a lot on Steyn and would have loved to have him play most of the games,” coach Ray Jennings said explaining the situation.
In his absence, the bowling is being led by the likes of Praveen Kumar and Pankaj Singh and the results have obviously not been upto the mark.
“I am happy with the commitment level of every player in the team. It’s just that Steyn is in a different class altogether,” he said.
The coach said that things can still turn around once Nathan Bracken comes into the picture. “He is supposed to be available after May 8. He is a world-class bowler and he can make a world of difference,” Jennings added.
Kallis has looked a touch jaded but the coach is not ready to buy that. “There’s no question about the efforts that he has put in. T20 is a marginal game and it can go wrong and the possibilities of a few failures are always more,” the coach added.
More than the failure of the South African cricketers, Jennings feels the first-ball dismissals have hurt the team more than anything else.
“There have been five first-ball dismissals and three second-ball dismissals, which is an absolute rarity. Those are the areas that we need to look at more than how the South Africans have performed in the tournament,” he added.
But then why wasn’t Boucher picked in the first place? “You should understand that we can only play four foreigners and the biggest challenge for a coach in the IPL is to get the right mix of the foreigners. We were trying Robin (Uthappa) as the keeper-batsman, but that didn’t quite go the way we wanted it to. It has nothing to do with Boucher’s ability (or the lack of it).”
The coach feels that in this tournament, it’s not just the South Africans who will make the difference. “It’s the experience, the wisdom of how to negotiate difficult conditions, that will make the difference. We’ve Anil Kumble, who has been better than Shane Warne, and Dravid. Dravid has told me he’ll be back and if we can win a few games now, there’s no reason why we can’t make our way back,” the coach sounds positive.”
M-2; Runs 61; HS 36; Avg-61.00; SR-148.78; Ct-1
Was surprisingly ignored in favour of India discard Robin Uthappa for the first three games. The star wicketkeeper-batsman exposed the flawed thinking with a quickfire 36 off 28 balls against Team Delhi and a match-winning, unbeaten 25 off 13 balls against the Knight Riders.
M-5; Runs 124; HS-62; Avg-24.80; SR-118.09; Overs 11; Wkt-1; Avg: 135 ER 12.27; Ct-2
Carried over his reputation as the biggest failure in the the team list from Season 1. Fired only once when he hit 62 off 46 balls but it came in a losing cause against Kings XI Punjab. Has been made to open of late, a move that has backfired royally. With the ball, he has been an absolute disaster.
M-3; Overs-9; Wkts-2; Avg-31.00; ER-6.88
Arguably, the best fast bowler in the world, Steyn has been bothered by injury which has prevented him from playing in the last few games. Wasn’t as effective as some of the other pace bowlers have been before he picked up the injury.