Royal Challengers face Warriors' test

Twice in the last three years, they have reached the final of the Indian Premier League, and they are the only IPL side to have qualified for every one of the three Champions League competitions so far. The glorious silverware, however, has remained steadfastly elusive.

The runners-up of IPL IV kick off CLT20 III at their favourite hunting ground, the Chinnaswamy stadium on Friday against South African team Warriors in a Group B clash, determined to rectify that anomaly and to show that they have the ability and the staying power to last the length of a tournament.

Daniel Vettori’s men don’t go into the tournament as overwhelming favourites, but they aren’t rank outsiders either. Especially from the overseas pros’ perspective, they are awash with glittering riches, be if the phlegmatic, cool-headed skipper himself, the remarkable AB de Villiers, the explosive Tillakaratne Dilshan or the fit-again and deadly dangerous Dirk Nannes. And, yes, of course the mercurial Chris Gayle!

Overlooked at the IPL IV auction, Gayle’s signing when Nannes pulled up injured has to go down as the coup of the season. The giant Jamaican took IPL IV by storm with his pyrotechnics with the bat, parsimony with the field and an obvious enjoyment in a new team that was infectious as the Challengers made the final in grand style before coming a cropper against the Chennai Super Kings.

Gayle will again be the main man around whom the Challengers’ campaign will revolve. Not by any stretch of the imagination are the Bangalore boys a one-man team, but just what mayhem the left-hander can create in the opposition ranks has been seen time after time. He will have to be the battering ram for the Challengers, especially as they will be without injured pace spearhead Zaheer Khan. Zaheer and Virat Kohli form the most accomplished Indian component of the Challengers’ set-up, but Vettori will seek more from the domestic players – the likes of Saurabh Tiwary, Mayank Agarwal, Mohammad Kaif, Abhimanyu Mithun, S Arvind and Syed Mohammed in particular – if the Challengers are to be an all-round force. After all, the domestic players make up seven-eleventh (expect in the Mumbai Indians’ case) of the playing eleven, and how well they acquit themselves will be crucial.

The Challengers will be up against it when they run into the Johan Botha-led Warriors, a strong team that includes several men with international experience. The exciting Colin Ingram and the experienced Ashwell Prince will carry the batting, there is wealth of spinning all-round depth in the shape of Botha himself, Nicky Boje and Jon-Jon Smuts, and quality in pace bowling in the shape of Juan Theron, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Wayne Parnell. Former Challenger Mark Boucher can be relied on for ‘inside info’, though the Challengers have undergone a sea change in personnel from the stumper’s time here.

There are enough chances in the league phase -- each team plays four matches -- to bounce back from an early debacle, but well begun is half done, at least. The Challengers, who have thrived on the vibrant, boisterous atmosphere at home, will be hoping a sizeable crowd turns up and provides the adrenaline on which Vettori’s boys so thrive.

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