For Royal Challengers Bangalore, IPL so far has been reminiscent of their 2009 campaign. An opening victory was followed by four winless matches before the turnaround happened.
RCB head into the Friday night fixture against struggling Pune Warriors, optimistic of a third consecutive win and first at home this season.
However, regular evening summer showers over the past few days pose a serious threat to the only league tie between these two sides this season and either a washout like the one against Rajasthan Royals last week or a reduced affair looks a distinct possibility.
The Chris Gayle sweep against KKR and a nervy run chase against Daredevils have placed the Daniel Vettori-led side at the top half of the points table but the last victory at the Kotla stands out for a significant reason. Virat Kohli’s blitzkrieg apart, RCB’s bowling department looked in order for the first time in the season.
Zaheer Khan put behind the KKR nightmare with a disciplined performance and Vettori continued his top form but the biggest plus was the signs of improvement from Karnataka pace duo of Abhimanyu Mithun and S Arvind. Given the new ball, left-arm paceman Arvind was unlucky not to bag wickets early on while a couple of strikes seemed to have pumped up right-armer Mithun.
The Delhi clash also saw RCB fielding five specialist bowlers in the eleven for the first time in this edition. Their South African all-rounder Johan van der Wath had struggled to match the bowling potential of someone like Jacques Kallis, who brought immense balance to RCB in the first three seasons. Also, it looked as if the think-tank had reposed too much faith in the all-round capabilities of Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kohli, a weak link the opponents were happy to cash in on.
It is ideal not to disturb the bowling combination now but the same can’t be guaranteed about the batting part. Gayle’s arrival has certainly let the pressure off the shoulders of Kohli and AB de Villiers but the lower middle order hasn’t contributed much.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Saurabh Tiwary had the opportunity against DD with the top four back in the hut but both failed. Whether Pujara would lose his place for that half-cooked pull shot remains to be seen.
Pune Warriors have batting worries gargantuan proportions with an early collapse being the prime reason for their last three defeats. After their bowlers failed to defend 187 against the Daredevils, Pune batsmen have failed to fire leading to a four-match losing streak.
Pune have lost their first four wickets inside the 50-run mark in the last three matches despite opener Jesse Ryder getting a decent T20 start on all the occasions. Skipper Yuvraj has shown some fighting spirit and Bangalore boy Robin Uthappa has displayed glimpses of aggression but what the visitors need is a collective effort.
Yuvi’s side has struggled with the team combination as well with eight overseas players tested in the six outings so far. Ryder and pacer Alfonso Thomas have been the constants in the foreign party but the latter’s place looks a little vulnerable now.
The experienced left-arm spinner Murali Kartik has picked up just one wicket so far and has been overshadowed by the young leggie Rahul Sharma, both of whom should remain central to Pune’s plans.
However, Pune inarguably start with an upper hand on the fielding front with RCB looking ordinary, something the home side should work at for a smooth run from here on.