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>IPL 2010 Team Preview: Royal Challengers Bangalore

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The Royal Challengers of Bangalore start IPL 2010 with what is arguably their strongest team till date, and will want to go one further than their creditable 2009 result, where they ended as the losing finalists. Along with title winners Deccan Chargers, they scripted a remarkable turnaround from the bottom of the pile in the first edition to the finals of the second.

The Challengers copped a huge amount of flak in the inaugural year for fielding a ‘test match’ side in a Twenty20 tournament, what with test specialists like Rahul Dravid, Wasim Jaffer and Jacques Kallis playing in their ranks. After a 140-run drubbing at the hands of a rampaging Brendon McCullum in the first ever IPL match, they failed to recover and slid right to the bottom and stayed there throughout, with only Deccan below them. However, the ‘King of Good Times’, Vijay Mallya has a compulsive hatred for defeat, and that showed in the signing of English megastar Kevin Pietersen, for a record $1.55 million, and maverick Kiwi Jesse Ryder. Though Pietersen failed, the Challengers collectively came good under the inspiring captaincy of the charismatic Anil Kumble in the Rainbow Nation, thanks to strong performances by the Indian players as well as the string of South Africans they fielded, and eventually fell an agonizing 6 runs short of the title.

This year, they are, if possible, still stronger than last year, with the addition of Irish-born Englishman Eoin Morgan in the player auction for $220,000, who has been a very strong performer for England as a dashing middle-order southpaw. They have also signed young Aussie allrounder Steven Smith, who is rising through the ranks of Australian cricket after an impressive showing for New South Wales in the Champions League T20 that they won.

Batting:
One must say, after the debacle of the opening season, the Challengers’ batting has grown stronger and stronger and is now on par with the best in the competition. In Kevin Pietersen, they have a man who has the potential to be a legend, and is obstructed only by his bullheadedness. After failing with the bat last season and drawing criticism for his uninspiring and unimaginative captaincy in his short stint at the helm, he will be keen to set things right and justify his hefty paycheck. Pietersen will miss atleast the opening five games of the season while he is on national duty in Bangladesh. He will be backed up by fellow Englishman Eoin Morgan, whose inventive strokeplay will surely be a crowd favourite at the Chinnaswamy stadium.

Ross Taylor is a very dangerous customer, as he proved last season, and his manic 81 off a mere 33 balls against the hapless Knight Riders stands out as testimony of his clean slogging across the line. He will, however, miss out on the first half of the tournament as he will turn out for the Kiwis against Australia, and might be available only on or after the 31st of March when Bangalore play Chennai, when he could straightaway walk into the side on reputation. Compatriot Jesse Ryder will be sorely missed this season, as he can be as explosive as anyone on his day.

Jacques Kallis will once more be integral to the Challengers’ and along with Dravid, will be the go-to man in rescue situations for skipper Kumble. He was the top scorer for RCB last season with 361 runs. However, he may miss out on a berth in the playing XI if both Taylor and Pietersen are fit and in form. Custodian Mark Boucher will also probably play all throughout the tournament, unless the thinktank entrusts the gloves to young Sreevats Goswami and play an extra batsman.

With already so many fantastic overseas batting options, the Challengers’ are spoilt for choice and there is one other still to be mentioned. Aussie Cameron ‘Bear’ White is a monstrous hitter of the cricket ball, and he is in fearsome form after his exploits in the recent tied Twenty20 game against the New Zealanders.

Coming to the local talent, there is no dearth of it either. Led by Rahul Dravid, the lineup is an impressive read, comprising Virat Kohli, Manish Pandey, Robin Uthappa and Wasim Jaffer. There is no denying the immense talent Kohli and Pandey possess, and the pair will surely one day form the backbone of the Indian side, after winning the under-19 World Cup together. Kohli has proved his mettle in ODIs for India and is but a step away from a permanent place in the national side, while Pandey was the find of the season last time as he hit the first and only hundred by an Indian in the IPL, and topped the average charts of RCB with a mighty 84, and also had the best strike rate of 142. Besides, both youngsters have impeccable domestic first-class records apart from being livewire fielders.

Robin Uthappa may have mellowed since his berserk-hitting beginnings, and his stock may have dipped, but there is no denying his capabilities in the shortest format, and his form at the top of the innings, or as a lower-order finisher will go a very long way in deciding how things go for Bangalore.

The ever dependable Wasim Jaffer might just lose out on a spot in the side to these effervescent youngsters, though he remains the first-choice Indian backup.

Bowling:
The bowling front is led by veteran captain Anil Kumble, who was instrumental to their success last season as he finished way on top of the wickets tally with 21 wickets, just 2 short of purple cap holder RP Singh. He even had the third-best economy rate, a mighty impressive 5.86. He was behind tweakers Muralitharan and Harbhajan in this table, and this reiterates the value good-quality spin bowling has in choking the runrates in this format. This time as well we can expect an equally stellar performance from the legend, on the spin-friendly tracks of India.

Roelof van der Merwe is sure to get the nod as the second spinner after a decent showing last year, and he is more than capable of giving the ball a hard hit. He may, however, sit out if the Challengers’ decide to go batting-heavy and entrust spin duties to White. Steven Smith is another option, but he will get his chance only if one of the A-listers are injured.

The world’s No.1 test bowler Dale Steyn will be raring to go with the new ball, and that should be enough to give nightmares to opening batsmen. His fierce pace and deadly accuracy make him a certainty in the side, and a crucial cog in the Bangalore wheel. Compatriot Dillon D=du Preez is a handy backup if Steyn is unavailable.

Praveen Kumar will be leading the Indian pace attack, and Abhimanyu Mithun, who made his international debut after a fantastic domestic season, will probably partner him. Tall and strapping Pankaj Singh and Vinay Kumar will warm the benches until the first choice pacers fail.

Besides, the medium pace of Jacques Kallis is a useful bonus and a more-than-handy variation that can be put to intelligent use by Kumble.

Squad of 23:

Batsmen: Virat Kohli, Robin Uthappa, Rahul Dravid, Sridharan Sriram, Ross Taylor, Kevin Pietersen, Manish Pandey, Eoin Morgan.

All Rounders: Jacques Kallis, Roelof van der Merwe, Cameron White, Balachandra Akhil, Steven Smith, Mark Boucher (wk), Sreevats Goswami (wk).

Bowlers: Anil Kumble (Captain), Praveen Kumar, Dale Steyn, Vinay Kumar, KP Apanna, Ahimanyu Mithun, Bhuvanesh Kumar, Dillon du Preez.

Support Staff: Head Coach – Ray Jennings, Assistant Coach – Vijay Bharadwaj, Physiotherapist – Bharatesh SP

Likely Staring XI: Jacques Kallis, Manish Pandey, Rahul Dravid, Eoin Morgan, Virat Kohli, Mark Boucher(wk), Robin Uthappa, Praveen Kumar, Anil Kumble(capt), Dale Steyn, Abhimanyu Mithun

Players to watch:

Virat Kohli: The stylish, young righthander is a class act and has been earmarked by Coach Ray Jennings as a future Royal Challengers Bangalore and India captain. With great things expected from him, he will feel the pressure to perform, and opposition teams must watch out for this young turk, who has all the shots in the book and the audacity to play them with success. Once considered brash and arrogant, he has matured a lot in very quick time, and with the World T20 coming up, he would want to underline his credentials as a dashing middle-order bat.

Eoin Morgan: Another youngster with a truckload of talent. He has shown his explosive batting on numerous occasions for Ireland and more recently England, and will be itching to showcase it in the cash-rich IPL. All he needs is a chance to play in the XI, which he is likely to get with Pietersen touring in Bangladesh with the Test squad.

Cameron White (Dark Horse): When it comes to clean ball-hitting, White ranks among the best in the world, right up there with Kieron Pollard and Yusuf Pathan. He has immensely powerful arms that are capable of clearing any stadium in the world. He targets the traditional V behind the bowler, unlike some others who have recently inverted the field to open up a scoring option in the V behind the keeper. His bludgeoned hits down the ground are vicious and bowlers and umpires are in mortal danger when he is on song. Thankfully the non-striker at least wears pads and a helmet!

Schedule:

Bangalore open their campaign away to the Kolkata Knight Riders on the 14th of March. After losing both games to Kolkata in the inaugural season they won both in the second. They should be confident of beating a Kolkata side that will be missing key players to international commitments, and get their campaign off to a winning start.

This is followed by home games against Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals. Both the Kings and the Royals boast of 3-1 head-to-head records against RCB, but Bangalore are the stronger side on paper this time and in home conditions the stage is set for two riveting contests. RCB then travel to Mumbai for what promises to be another close contest between two evenly matched sides that stand at 2 wins apiece.

The next two games will probably decide which way the campaign heads for the Challengers. Delhi and Chennai, arguably the strongest teams in the competition, tour Bangalore and winning against them will be a daunting prospect, even with the home advantage. RCB then travel to Chennai for another grueling game, and this concludes the first half of a rather lopsided schedule.

RCB will be happy with 4 wins at this stage to keep the semifinals hopes alive, and the return of Ross Taylor will be both a morale booster and a strong addition to the XI. They will look to continue to hunt the weaker sides in the second leg as well, and pull a few upsets as well, with Taylor back. More importantly, they would be keen to generate a winning momentum going into the semifinals, as being in the middle of a winning streak is a huge confidence booster when approaching the knockout stages of the competition.

Home ground:

The M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru will play host to all the home games of the Challengers. The Stadium that seats 40,000 is an ideal place for a carnival atmosphere that the IPL never fails to generate. Vijay Mallya’s flamboyance has also give the Challengers a most beautiful bevy of cheerleaders, and that coupled with the passionate home crowd should ideally be a great motivation to the players. Sadly, they have thus far won just a single game at home and have lost as many as 6. But this may be attributed to their overall pathetic performance in the first season and this is a brilliant opportunity to set things right and give their fans their money’s worth.

Will the Challengers go one further than last time and win the coveted trophy this time round? Well, they certainly have the team to do so, but will need to hold their nerve in close finishes. Both their batting and bowling units are versatile, well-rounded and their depth is something most teams would crave. In fact, they are one of the most balanced sides in the tournament. What they need to guard against is that lackadaisical attitude and the lack of killer instinct they had in the first season, and it is the role of the captain that is of paramount importance in avoiding this. Anil Kumble certainly has the persona and experience to hold the team together and keep spirits lifted, and he also needs to ensure the team gets out of a rut following defeat, as losses in the shortest format have a snowballing effect.

Fixtures:

Home Games:

March 16, Tuesday vs Kings XI Punjab, 4 pm
March 18, Thursday vs Rajasthan Royals, 8 pm
March 23, Tuesday vs Chennai SuperKings, 8 pm
March 27, Saturday vs Delhi Daredevils, 8 pm
April 8, Thursday vs Deccan Chargers, 8 pm
April 10, Saturday vs Kolkata Knight Riders, 8pm
April 17, Saturday vs Mumbai Indians, 4 pm

Away Games:

March 14, Sunday vs Kolkata Knight Riders (Kolkata), 4 pm
March 20, Saturday vs Mumbai Indians (Mumbai), 8 pm
March 31, Wednesday vs Chennai SuperKings (Chennai), 4 pm
April 2, Friday vs Kings XI Punjab (Mohali), 8 pm
April 4, Sunday vs Delhi Daredevils (Delhi), 8 pm
April 12, Monday vs Deccan Chargers (Nagpur), 8 pm
April 14, Wednesday vs Rajasthan Royals (Jaipur), 8 pm

March 9, 2010 - Posted by | Indian Premier League, IPL, IPL 2010, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Team Preview

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