As KL Rahul and Chris Gayle walked out to the middle, a sense of nostalgia would have hit Royal Challengers Bangalore, and its countless legion of fans. Imagine a batting line-up that has these two opening and then followed by Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers to round off the top four. One season ago, this was indeed the batting order that RCB boasted of (although Rahul missed the entire tournament with an injury.) However, it didn’t help their cause that the team was badly hampered by injuries and finished a poor eighth, their worst-ever finish in the history of the tournament.
RCB’s failure was hard to describe. True, their bowling didn’t hold any terrors and batting – their strength, suddenly found themselves in unfamiliar situations on a pitch that wasn’t exactly a batting beauty. A combination of the two resulted in the team crashing to defeats and when the next auction came about in January 2018, they needed to add a touch of freshness to the set-up.
A chastened RCB team management seemed set for a new start as well. With teams having the opportunity to retain three players, it all looked simple from their point of view, with Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and KL Rahul – the three players, who were expected to continue with the franchise. It was then a surprise that the third player retained was Sarfaraz Khan – ahead of the home boy.
RCB have never been short of throwing surprises, but this one came as a rude shock to the locals. Here was a Karnataka player who had just emerged from a breakthrough Test series (at home against Australia) and looked set to be with the franchise – irrespective of any financial considerations, a domain that could only be resolved by the management.
Chris Gayle, the man who enthralled the Chinnaswamy crowd, wasn’t retained and so was Rahul, but the faith was still unwavering. Fans perhaps still believed both would be bought back at the auctions. The D-Day arrived on 27th January – even as the fans were having an eye on all the action in Johannesburg (India versus South Africa Test), it was time for those eight franchises to make their choices back home in Bengaluru. The legend that Gayle is, it wasn’t a surprise that his name came out first. It wasn’t a major surprise when he went unsold. It had happened to him way back in 2011.
All eyes were now on Rahul, whose name came into the fray immediately after the marquee players were done. Kings XI Punjab weren’t expected to be one of the bidders, they would only come in at the end of the auctions to spoil someone’s fun. It wasn’t expected to be an easy auction either. Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai Indians went furiously at each other and suddenly at 6.2 crores, Sunrisers Hyderabad stepped in. For a moment, it seemed that the elegant right-hander would be sold at that amount – a price that seemed well in range for RCB’s budget, who would then swoop in to grab a player who belonged to them.
That feeling lasted only for a while though. KXIP swooped in and within a matter of few seconds, Rahul had become the first Indian player to hit the million mark. When it finally stopped – at INR 11 crores, RCB knew they were out of the contest. Having already spent INR 31 crores on three batsmen, they couldn’t shell a big amount for another batsman. They shook their head and that ended Bengaluru’s dreams of watching Rahul play for the franchise. When Gayle arrived for a third bite of the cherry, late in the auctions, the franchise didn’t even have the minimum amount to lay a bid.
Come IPL 2018 – Rahul has been in sizzling form – his batting has been crisp and clean. Consistency has been the hallmark of his batting and it’s only fair to say that he’s playing at his best. Giving him company is Gayle, a late entrant into the playing XI, the Jamaican’s first hit was a half-century and he went one better in the next knock, a powerful hundred against SRH.
Back to RCB, having assembled what Kohli said was the ‘most balanced team’ ever, the franchise stumbled and fumbled, even as Rahul and Gayle kept putting on a show. As the league stage reached its climax, the fans of both teams finally got the opportunity they longed for. It was KXIP versus RCB in Indore and it was Rahul plus Gayle versus their former team.
Could the inconsistent RCB bowlers stop the rampaging opening pair? Or would Rahul and Gayle put the final nail in their former team’s IPL 2018 campaign? The Karnataka batsman started from where he had left off. A short ball was hammered over square leg and another similar ball was savagely pulled in the same direction. Dropped on 0, Gayle warmed up with a couple of muscular blows off Southee. Rahul then picked Umesh over mid-wicket once again and RCB perhaps feared the worst.
The fun lasted just 4.3 overs though. Rahul fell to an ill-advised pull and his opening partner, Gayle, fell to the same shot as well. Things went rapidly downhill after that as the Punjab team capitulated to just 88 all out. But for a fan of RCB, he had seen it all, a slice of Rahul’s class, a piece of Gayle’s power-hitting and the franchise coming back to their magical best.