IPL 2021: RCB have the firepower but Knights tough nut to crack

Ayaz Memon/Mumbai
Filed on October 11, 2021 | Last updated on October 11, 2021 at 12.20 am
RCB skipper Virat Kohli is desperate to end his IPL trophy drought and KKR captain Eoin Morgan has been tactically brilliant despite his poor form with the bat. (BCCI)

KKR have the greater momentum going into the playoffs

Royal Challengers Bangalore missed finishing in the top two on Net Run Rate following a couple of disappointing performances in the second phase.

However, the last-ball victory over table-toppers Delhi Capitals in their last league match came as a massive fillip before the playoffs, and could be significant in Monday’s eliminator against Kolkata Knight Riders.

Given DC’s all-round strength, RCB’s performance in Friday’s match was outstanding. The thrilling finish apart, it restored the spirit in the RCB camp.

By that time, it was clear they wouldn’t finish in the top two. That the winning, last-ball six came off Srikar Bharat’s bat and not from any of the big guns like Virat Kohli, Glenn Maxwell or AB de Villiers, was also a boon.

RCB’s two major setbacks in the second phase came through poor batting. Their batting issues brought down their Net Run Rate significantly.

This happened largely because the top-order didn’t function properly. They lost three out of seven matches since the league resumed in UAE. Overall, Devdutt Padikkal has impressed and Maxwell has been outstanding with Kohli also scoring two fine half-centuries. If Bharat, who bats at 3 or 4, can come up with a knock like he did against DC, and De Villiers rediscovers himself, RCB would be difficult to suppress.

The bowling’s looked excellent. Harshal Patel has been marvellous in checking runs and picking up wickets in the second half of the innings, Yuzvendra Chahal has allowed opposing batsmen little freedom in the middle overs, and Mohammed Siraj has managed to bowl at the start and end of the innings with fine skills.

In listing all these virtues, I don’t mean to understate KKR’s prospects. In the second phase, the Knight Riders have been quite superb in how they’ve risen from a near-hopeless position to finish in the top four.

On points, they may have lagged behind RCB, but in fact, KKR have the greater momentum going into the playoffs.

Also, a more rounded team, with a good balance of youth and experience, a top-order that has been producing runs consistently, and a bowling attack flush with wicket-takers, pacers and spinners. If RCB look somewhat vulnerable because of De Villiers’ lukewarm form, KKR have a similar problem with Eoin Morgan who’s actually been in worse form.

Where cricketing aspects are concerned, the two teams appear evenly matched. Knock-out matches, however, are decided by which team can handle the pressure better. Reaching the final and winning the trophy is the objective of both teams, but the burden of expectation is somewhat greater on RCB, who are still seeking their maiden triumph.

Moreover, since Kohli has announced that this is the last season he’ll be captaining RCB, this expectation will weigh on the players even more. It works both ways, this pressure. It can bring out the best in players/team, or take a toll on their performance. The mental toughness to produce high-quality performances under duress is the key.

Kohli loves a challenge and will be all charged up. Nobody will be more conscious of what this match means to him and his team.

Having lost last season’s Eliminator to Sunrisers Hyderabad in UAE, RCB’s fortunes on Monday will depend on how well Kohli commands his team tactically, and how the players respond to the demands of the captain and the occasion.

Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator

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