King Kohli's crumbling RCB empire

Royal Challengers Bangalore skipper Virat Kohli has cut a sorry figure for yet another season. PTI

The emotions of Royal Challengers Bangalore’s supporters have assumed various hues even as their results have remained the same after half a dozen matches in the ongoing Indian Premier League.

If there was disappointment at the beginning, it made way for sarcasm as fans came up with memes and witty remarks about RCB’s winless run. With defeats becoming more of a norm, there is a sense of sympathy which may, however, degenerate into indifference towards the team if Virat Kohli and his men fail to even salvage some pride from what appears to be a lost cause now.

Stretching from last season, Bangalore have lost seven matches on the trot -- the most by any team in the IPL. Their run of six consecutive defeats in this season is their second such losing streak after the inaugural edition in 2008, and only Delhi have the honour of achieving this dubious distinction in 2013.

After the runners-up spot in 2016, RCB have finished eighth in 2017 and sixth in 2018. And in this edition, they are rooted to the bottom after six defeats in as many matches. As Moeen Ali pointed out on Sunday after their loss to Delhi Capitals, RCB need no less than a miracle to qualify for the play-offs. Thus, in all probability, goes another season without a title for RCB -- one of the only three teams not to have won IPL along with Kings XI Punjab and Delhi.    

While there is no doubt that players have failed to live up to the potential, Kohli’s captaincy can’t be absolved totally. If anything, it should be held equally accountable.

No player in IPL history has been at the helm of a team for as many years as Kohli without winning a title. After standing in for Daniel Vettori in a few matches in 2012, Kohli has been RCB’s full-time captain since 2013. Barring 2015 and 2016, RCB haven’t made the play-offs in the remaining four years.

Kohli is only the third captain to have led a team in 100 or more matches after M S Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir and he has the lowest winning percentage among the three. While Dhoni has won three titles, Gambhir guided Kolkata Knight Riders to glory twice. His India deputy Rohit Sharma in the shorter versions has inspired Mumbai Indians to three IPL titles in fewer matches.

Even among the five captains that RCB have had so far, Anil Kumble and Daniel Vettori have a better winning percentage than Kohli. They, however, led in far fewer matches. In their maiden season as captains, the two spin legends piloted RCB to the final once each though the title remained elusive.

In a club culture, it’s unheard of for a captain to survive so long in his position without delivering a title even once. There could be reasons why the RCB, whose ownership pattern itself has changed, don’t want to touch Kohli. He is the world’s best batsman, he is the most marketable face in the game and he attracts sponsors and a legion of fans to support the team. He is perhaps as big a brand as the RCB themselves if not bigger at the moment, but can they afford to prolong this dip for the sake of a superstar?

For someone who has an enviable record as India captain in a short span of time, Kohli’s returns with the RCB are surprisingly poor. Or are they really surprising? He possesses one of the best batting line-ups in the world and has inherited the best Indian pace bowling attack ever and by his own admission, he had no role in moulding them. He always had the wise counsel of former coach Anil Kumble and the incumbent Ravi Shastri. On the field, in the shorter formats, he often banks on M S Dhoni’s tactical nous and occasional timely inputs from his deputy Rohit Sharma. It’s credit to Kohli that despite his unparalleled stature, he hasn’t allowed his ego to come between the larger good of the team and strategic inputs from teammates. But without the right kind of tactical back-up, Kohli has failed to replicate the same results with RCB.

With the World Cup around the corner, can India afford to have their captain and best batsman doubting himself? With RCB’s cause all but lost now, Kohli may just hand captaincy to someone else and just enjoy his batting. Who knows, there could be a surprise in store or even a miracle? After all, it’s a game of glorious uncertainties!

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