RCB train eyes on a cracking start

Possibility of rain a concern as Kohli & Co take on Pontings Mumbai Indians at home

RCB train eyes on a cracking start

If big bucks were a way to buy success then the Royal Challengers Bangalore and, more so, the Mumbai Indians would have ruled the roost in the Indian Premier League.

That after three finals between them (Royal Challengers in 2009 and 2011 and Mumbai Indians in 2010) the two franchises remain without a title in the league’s five-year history shows money alone can’t guarantee you success.

The two high-profile sides, but somewhat underachievers given their resources, run into each other here at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Thursday night in quest of that elusive trophy. A star-studded line-up from either side promises to light up the Bangalore skies provided the rains don’t play a dampner.

To be fair to the Royal Challengers, the Vijay Mallya-owned side has managed to maintain its reputation as one of the major contenders for the title after their disastrous campaign in the inaugural year in 2008. Having finished seventh in the eight-team league under their Icon player Rahul Dravid, Bangalore, since then, have made two finals and a semifinal before finishing fifth the previous season.

While the elevation of Anil Kumble as their captain midway through their campaign in 2009 in South Africa heralded a great turnaround in their fortunes, the ace leg-spinner’s move to induct Chris Gayle, who had remained unsold in the auction before the 2011 edition, into their set-up provided their batting a lethal edge. Kumble now has moved on to the Mumbai camp as its Chief Mentor and along with coach John Wright and assistant coach Robin Singh, forms perhaps the best think-tank in the IPL. 

Under the red and gold colours, Gayle has clobbered an astounding 1341 runs in two seasons, including three centuries and nine half-centuries. As much as his presence forces the opponents work overtime to blunt his effectiveness, there is a sense of overdependence on the Jamaican. In a team that also boasts the likes of AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli and Tillakaratne Dilshan, it’s a bit of a shame that so much should depend on one man’s performance. Their newest skipper Kohli, along with coach Ray Jennings, would surely have cracked their heads to fix the problem.

Bowling, which was a bit inconsistent, has seen a clutch of reinforcements. RP Singh, Pankaj Singh, Jaydev Unadkat were bought in the last auction along with West Indies’ Ravi Pampaul and Christopher Barnwell. RCB also acquired Aussie all-rounder Moises Henriques, a dark horse who can provide the much-needed balance to the side.

Striking balance in the bowling will be crucial for the hosts. There is still a fitness concern over pace spearhead Zaheer Khan, who will not be available for the first two matches, but R Vinay Kumar, their most prolific wicket-taker — at the same time their most profligate — will be in their starting line-up along with their most effective Muttiah Muralitharan. Accommodating left-arm spinner Daneil Vettori will again be a challenge though the absence of de Villiers for the opening match may just strengthen his case.

Both Muralitharan and Vettori are among bowlers with best economy rates and their presence may just slow down the big hitters in the Mumbai camp which possesses the likes of Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Smith and Ambati Rayudu. Sachin Tendulkar, with his busy methods, is a perennial threat, while their skipper Ricky Ponting, though past his prime, can be dangerous on his day. However, the absence of slinging sensation Lasith Malinga due to a sore back may take much of the sting away from their attack.

There is, however, no dearth of replacements in the Mumbai squad. Mitchell Johnson, Munaf Patel and Dhawal Kulkarni can be more than handy while a clutch of all-rounders provide their captain plenty of options.  

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