Bangalore: Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore are left with a mountain to climb in their bid to qualify for the play-offs as they host the high-flying Chennai Super Kings in their concluding Indian Premier League fixture here Saturday.
The Mangalam Chinnaswamy Stadium, that was long considered as the RCB’s impregnable fortress, especially after six consecutive wins this season, was breached earlier this week when Kings XI Punjab chased down a target of 175 to win by seven wickets.
The shock defeat at home certainly stopped the RCB’s progress at 16 points. They have to reckon with two more teams, the Sunrisers Hyderabad (16 points from 14 matches) and Kings XI Punjab (14 from 15) in the race for the fourth play-off berth.
All the three teams have a realistic chance of joining the top three – Mumbai Indians (22), Super Kings (22) and Rajasthan Royals (20) – in the play-offs. Hence, the RCB have to necessarily win Saturday if only to eliminate Kings XI, who are to play Mumbai Indians at Dharmashala, also on Saturday (4 p.m.), from the play-offs race.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led Super Kings, having made it to the play-offs, will be under less pressure and are expected to play with much more freedom, though their aim would be to finish in the top-two bracket as that will also ensure them a spot in the Champions League later this year.
Thus, the spotlight would be on the RCB who have had three days to recover from the defeat to Kings XI and avenge the loss to Super Kings. The teams met in the league last month in Chennai where the hosts snatched a dramatic last-ball win with R.P. Singh sending down a no-ball and also conceding a single with the home team needing two runs to win.
The RCB now find themselves in a must-win situation against a team that is among hot favourites to win the trophy. The onus will be on the RCB to lift their overall game and not just be dependent on their three key batsmen, Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers to pull them through.
RCB’s bowling, especially in the end-overs, has been a matter of concern with far too many runs leaked at the death and that contributed to their defeats. This is rather ironical considering that the team had focused on strengthening its bowling at this year’s auctions.
In contrast, the CSK’s major stumbling block has been their collective inconsistency in their batting that is considered to be their strength. For, a team that twice put up totals of 200 and more, was bundled out for 79 by Mumbai Indians in a collapse that raised many eyebrows. However, such has been the CSK’s all-round strength that they have not been dependent on one or two players.
Considering the relative strengths of the two teams and the pressure on the RCB, there are strong indicators that the Super Kings could yet pull through on the morrow to extend their hold on their southern neighbours.