The city of Bangalore can now boast of two extremely popular sports teams.
The football team, Bengaluru FC, has only been in existence since 2013. But that half-decade has been enough for them to become a beacon for Indian football, a role model of professionalism — the previous absence of which contributed so much to the slide down the world rankings from the 1970s.
The cricket team, in contrast, has epitomised the worst of Indian sport, with its ‘chalta hai (it works)’ attitude.
That would seem excessive criticism of a franchise that has reached three finals in 11 seasons (losing them all), but if you scratch beneath the surface, it is always individual brilliance rather than a robust team ethos that has been responsible for the team’s crests.
The 2018 debacle – eight losses in 14 games – follows on the heels of a 2017 season where they won just three matches. Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) have finished sixth or worse in three of the five seasons where Daniel Vettori has been coach.
Qualifying for the playoffs in 2015, and reaching the final a year later on the back of Virat Kohli’s 973 runs, was largely down to the triumvirate of Kohli, AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle being in such formidable touch.
The captain too cannot be exempt from blame. But this season, there were extenuating circumstances.
While the auction was going on in Bangalore in January, Kohli’s full focus was trained on a Wanderers Test that he was determined to win.
When asked a question about the IPL after the match was won, he brushed it off with a curt answer of “Sir, please don’t ask me such things now.”
Bangalore’s auction missteps were cruelly apparent on Saturday evening, as two Karnataka players combined to knock them out.
Shreyas Gopal and Krishnappa Gowtham have never worn RCB colors. It cost Rajasthan Royals 62 million rupees ($910,000) to sign Gowtham, but Gopal came at his base price of two million rupees.
The spin web they spun – 6 for 23 in six overs – illustrated Bangalore’s inability to make best use of local talent. Three of the Indian spinners RCB signed – Pawan Negi, Washington Sundar and Murugan Ashwin – for a combined cost of 64 million rupees ended up bowling 31 overs across the season.
Of course, you cannot be too parochial when it comes to professional sport. The National Football League’s two greatest quarterbacks – Joe Montana and Tom Brady – both crossed the width of a continent to script their legends.
Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles were not born within a goal kick of Hackney or Islington. And Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona certainly were not all about the boys from La Masia.
But in Bangalore’s case, despite Karnataka having enjoyed some excellent seasons in domestic cricket this decade, there has been a marked reluctance to pick the players for RCB. Even those that did play and shine, like KL Rahul, who made 397 runs for them in 2016, were not retained.
Instead, RCB’s third retention card in 2018 was spent on Sarfaraz Khan, who finished the season with 51 runs. Rahul already has 652.
Vettori succeeded Ray Jennings in January 2014, the man who had taken them to two finals in 2009 and 2011.
A year later, when Kohli was handed the Test reins by India, Jennings told The Indian Express how Kohli had been instrumental in him losing his job.
“People generally don’t like being questioned and pointed out their shortcomings, but I knew what I did was for his, and the team’s, well-being,” he said. “But as a captain, he has the right to work with the people he is comfortable with and I have no complaints.”
Gary Kirsten, who took India to the No.1 ranking in Tests and helped win a World Cup in 2011, joined RCB this season as mentor and batting coach.
In the T20 format, Kirsten has a wretched record. India failed to make it out of the Super Eights at the World T20 in both 2009 and 2010, and his two seasons with the Delhi Daredevils were nothing short of a disaster.
Vettori’s attempt to spread his wings with Middlesex last summer saw him finish with a 5-7 win-loss record.
The successful teams long ago realized that T20 is a separate sport, where success depends on good scouting and use of analytics.
Pedigree in the longer forms is no guarantee for success in T20, where the name of the game is tactical innovation.
Bangalore, both in terms of recruitment and on-field execution, are well off the pace.