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  • Aditya Padinjat

An RCB Fan Celebrates Winning An IPL Title

 

The air of Anjuna, Goa is warm, rain hovers in the air along with the sounds of Kajra Re. Outside, tires screech as one vehicle pulls up outside Purple Martini and another one departs for Diaz. The entirety of the Ashoka University graduating batch is in Goa, save for one person – me. Instead, I am hunched over on the floor of an RH01 room with my left foot in front of my right and my right hand touching the bed frame for good luck. I have one eye on the RCB jersey hung up on the wall since March, begging Yash Dayal to deliver another perfect slower ball. No other team has subjected me to as much as this lot has and no other ever will. My superstition worked (a few days later it would promptly stop working again but oh well) and Dayal nailed his slower ball to take RCB to 4th in the IPL table and complete an unthinkable comeback. From losing 7 of their first 8 matches, they won their next 6 matches to qualify for the playoffs. And so, as I left RH01, time just floated by – if you will – as I dreamt of a perennial stream of RCB IPL dominance (if this is to be the case it will be from next year now).

 

As a fan of Royal Challengers Bengaluru, and someone who has been writing about sports for a while now, I like to think that I’ve learned a thing or two about cricket and the psyche of the cricket fan. One thing I’m yet to understand is why someone would support RCB. They are, after all, historical heartbreakers. Your heart, as Anderson .Paak might say, don’t stand a chance with them.


Across 17 seasons of the Indian Premier League, they have been every type of good, bad, and ugly, broken every record and then broken it again, made their fans believe and then unbelieve and then believe again, all without an elusive IPL title. The first time I ever saw them be RCB came in that 2016 final, when Virat Kohli had that 973-run season, and they had that batting line-up of Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, KL Rahul, and Shane Watson, and went on that ridiculous winning streak only to be defeated in the final by… Ben Cutting. I was in 8th standard during that final. I have just completed my undergraduate degree, and they haven’t changed. Yet something keeps drawing me back to them – something greater than my affection for the city of Bengaluru, or my nostalgia for the RCB teams of my childhood.

 

This season, there was something different about them. This isn’t an RCB team of old, as personified by their effervescent talisman, Virat Kohli. After all, there was no reason for them to go on the remarkable run that they had. Their early season form was rather unimpressive as they leaked runs and struggled to nail their overseas combination, leading to a record of P8W1L7. Aside from Kohli, Rajat Patidar, and maybe Will Jacks (at a stretch), it’s hard to argue that any RCB player had an excellent tournament. Good, maybe, but excellent less so. Even as they were in the thick of their miraculous comeback run, they constantly had their backs against the wall when it came to game state.


They lost the toss and batted first in their final two matches, both of which were played at their home ground – which famously tends to favour chasing sides – against Delhi and Chennai, both formidable chasing sides. Against Chennai, they were defending with a ball too wet for their bowlers to grip against an MS Dhoni who appeared to be powered on sheer adrenaline and narrative. Simply put, this team had absolutely no right to be making comebacks of any description. Yet somehow, at every stage, they stayed in the fight through sheer determination, hanging on by the skin of their teeth, always managing to live to see another day.

 

Cricket is a game that runs on conventional logic. Quite annoyingly for a wannabe hipster such as myself, that conventional logic usually works. Unlike football, for example, a cricket innings is a collection of independent(ish) events where one player takes on another. Over the course of 120 such events, good players tend to win more.  The good teams win because they have good cricket players (if anyone would like to hire me for my cricketing insight I am currently not contracted to any franchise). Even by the maxims of what a “good” T20 franchise should be, RCB is not a side that particularly stands out. A good T20 franchise should have a domestic captain, and RCB is captained by a 39-year-old South African, Francois du Plessis. A good T20 franchise should have at least 4 overs of world-class spin. Here, the frontline spinners were Swapnil Singh and Karn Sharma. Singh never bowled his full quota of 4 overs and Sharma only did so twice this season. A good T20 franchise has 2 banker death bowlers; RCB had Mohammed Siraj and they had Yash Dayal, whose IPL economy rate has never been below 9 and had primarily been defined by his inability to defend 29 off the final over in a match the previous season. A good T20 franchise (aside from those that wear yellow) is afforded some flexibility from their wicketkeeper – Dinesh Karthik has faced over 30 balls only twice in the last 3 seasons.

 

None of their players are bad by any stretch of the imagination, but conventional logic dictates that they shouldn’t add up to a winning side. The composition of this team is not that of a winning one. And yet, game by game, each one of this band of unlikely heroes found an opportunity to step up and win a game. In each of the six games of their unbeaten run, the Man of the Match award was won by a different player – Patidar, Jacks, Siraj, Kohli, Green, and du Plessis. Every big player took a turn to step up and be the one to take the team through the game. Each time, they were supported by a different cast of supporting heroes, like Dayal, Karn, Swapnil, Karthik, and Vyshak, who stepped up in the pressure moments to deliver for their side.

 

In the midst of all this, Kohli’s role is an interesting one to consider. While it has always been understood that he is a world-class batter, there has simultaneously always been a sense that T20 may not be his best format. Questions about his strike rate have plagued his T20 career to the point where there were suggestions that he may not make it to the World Cup squad this June. There is some justification for this as well. His career T20 strike rate is 138. Aside from 2016, his IPL strike rate had only crossed 140 twice in 17 seasons. His century against Rajasthan Royals (a 72-ball 113) early on had me begging him to get out by the end of it. But as the season has gone on, his transformation has mirrored his team’s, as he has returned a 741-run season at a strike rate of 155. I know better than to try to psychoanalyse the man, but it does seem like at least some of this change has come from a desire to prove people wrong. Kohli has brought a passion and aggression (along with vision and mindset) to the field that has been missing since his heyday as the Indian captain. There have been multiple occasions where his fielding has brought the team back into games that were slipping away from them and on each occasion, there has been a send-off for the batter who is going back at the end of it. This is not the new age zen Kohli that we have seen in the last few years, it is a Kohli closer to the Kohli of 2016-2018.

 

I have enjoyed the collective head loss that RCB’s historic run has brought with it (hello at this juncture to Ambati Rayudu and the entire CSK squad). As a fan, I am acutely aware that my side has never won the IPL. The reason for my celebration (and the reason for this entire epic that you have been kind enough to read) is not to celebrate winning. It’s to celebrate dreaming. It’s to celebrate how week by week, the team that has never won, the team that never wins, the team that shouldn’t win, kept giving me reason to dream. So much of sport goes exactly how it should, and we treasure the few moments we have when it does not – when our sides do the extraordinary. That the cup (the IPL cup) was not namde ee sala is secondary, there’s always next year for that.

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