Chairs being dusted vigorously. Final coats of paint being applied here and there. Little rectangles of dark green on the square complementing a generous sprinkling of grass on the 22-yard strip. Concentric circles of light and dark green dotting an outfield that is in as good a shape as it ever has been. The normal sea of yellow and red seats being augmented by the red and black of the franchise all around the venue.
The M Chinnaswamy Stadium is well and truly ready to welcome season nine of the Indian Premier League, a season Royal Challengers Bangalore will be hoping finally brings the kind of results a team that comprises Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle is expected to deliver.
For eight seasons now, Bangalore have carried goodwill and pedigree and quality personnel into the IPL, looking a well-oiled machine for the most part but falling just short when it came to the crunch. Being two-time finalists is not something either the ownership group, or the playing and the support group, will be particularly proud of; the IPL, no matter what they tell you, is all about winning, and while the team has won the hearts of the Garden City and has the most voluble and durable fan-base, it hasn’t won what matters most.
It is towards correcting that anomaly that the franchise made some significant buys at the February auction, not least Shane Watson, the recently retired Australian all-rounder, for a season-high Rs 9.5 crore, and Samuel Badree, the still unheralded West Indian legspinner who is the No. 1 bowler in Twenty20 International cricket and yet went for no more than his base price of Rs 50 lakh.
While Watson will very much figure in Kohli and Bangalore’s scheme of things in their tournament opener against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Tuesday (April 12), Badree won’t be seen in action, nursing as he is a shoulder injury sustained during the final of the World T20 against England at the Eden Gardens. The leggie with the fast arm action and an accuracy to die for had weaved his craft with the ball but landed awkwardly on his right shoulder while taking the catch at short third-man that saw the back of Liam Plunkett. His absence, at least during the early stages, coupled with Mitchell Starc’s unavailability for the entire season, isn’t the kind of news Kohli will welcome at this initial phase.
As invaluable and irreplaceable as these two quality performers with the ball are—Badree mainly during the Power Play and Starc primarily at the death with his searing left-arm inswinging yorkers—Bangalore will feel that they have resources that will still do an adequate job without being like-for-like replacements. The acquisition of Stuart Binny lends not just local flavour but another all-round option, while David Wiese, Kane Richardson and Adam Milne are quality overseas pacers who will come into the picture immediately, what with Badree rendered hors-de-combat.
For all that, though, Bangalore’s campaign will revolve primarily around the Big Three, who are coming off campaigns of varying degrees of success at the World T20. Kohli, the Player of the Tournament, was head and shoulders above the rest of the competition throughout the event, finishing as the highest run-getter and single-handedly carrying India through to the semifinal. Gayle tapered off after a blazing start but ended on a high stemming from West Indies’ surge to the title, while de Villiers’s form pretty much mirrored that of South Africa, who again came up short at an ICC event.
In Bangalore colours, each one is a behemoth; throw in Watson, muscular at the top or the middle, and a wealth of Indian talent in the form of the returning KL Rahul, the exciting Sarfaraz Khan, the excitable Mandeep Singh and the impressive Kedar Jadhav who can also keep wickets, and Hyderabad will know they have their work cut out. This, despite the presence of the left-arm pace bowling trio of Trent Boult, unutilised by New Zealand at the World T20, Ashish Nehra, a towering figure in India’s stuttering run to the last four, and Mustafizur Rahman, the young Bangladeshi who has taken the international scene by storm since his debut less than one year back. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Karn Sharma bring experience and versatility to the mix, but Hyderabad will badly miss the all-round skills of Yuvraj Singh, recovering from the ankle injury that kept him out of the semifinal loss to West Indies at the World T20.
Like Bangalore, Hyderabad possess a strong batting core group headlined by their captain who played in the middle order for Australia but is expected to chug back to the opener’s slot come Tuesday. David Warner is one of only two overseas pros in a captaincy role in this IPL1David Miller being the other—and he will perforce have to lead from the front, especially with fellow experienced batsmen Shikhar Dhawan, Kane Williamson and Eoin Morgan all coming off modest outings in the World T20.
Tom Moody, the Hyderabad coach, said the trio’s lack of runs at the World T20 was absolutely no cause for concern, but that’s no more than what you would expect of a coach. It is up to the batting core to justify the faith of the former Australian allrounder.
You would expect Bangalore, egged on by their army of red-clad, screaming, baying spectators, to begin overwhelming favourites, but Hyderabad have proved a banana skin as far as Kohli’s men are concerned more than once in their brief existence. What does Tuesday have in store?
Royal Challengers Bangalore: Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli (capt), AB de Villiers, Shane Watson, Sarfaraz Khan, Kedar Jadhav, Stuart Binny, Yuzvendra Chahal, Adam Milne, S Arvind, Varun Aaron, David Wiese, Mandeep Singh, Travis Head, Sachin Baby, Iqbal Abdulla, Praveen Dubey, Akshay Karnewar, Kane Richardson, Abu Nechim, Harshal Patel, Vikramjeet Malik, Vikas Tokas, KL Rahul, Parvez Rasool.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: David Warner (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Kane Williamson, Eoin Morgan, Naman Ojha, Deepak Hooda, Karn Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Mustafizur Rahman, Trent Boult, Moises Henriques, Siddarth Kaul, Abhimanyu Mithun, T Suman, Ashish Reddy, Bipul Sharma, Ben Cutting, Vijay Shankar, Barinder Sran, Aditya Tare, Ricky Bhui.
Mint has a content partnership with Wisden India for the IPL 9 season.