Virat Kohli (L) and Chris Gayle form part of a potent top order for RCB, and will be counted on to provide flying starts. © AFP

Virat Kohli (L) and Chris Gayle form part of a potent top order for RCB, and will be counted on to provide flying starts. © AFP

Royal Challengers Bangalore put an abysmal inaugural Indian Premier League season in 2008 behind them to reach the final twice and be the third-placed team once in the next four editions.

Powered by a flamboyant owner, a huge fan following and packed with star players, there is always a buzz about RCB. After having led the side in a few matches in the past, Virat Kohli has been formally handed over the reins of the franchise and, with him at the helm of affairs, RCB will look to go all out in their quest to add some silverware to their bare trophy cabinet.

Last season: After three consecutive years in which RCB made it to the final four, they missed out in 2012, failing to chase 132 against Deccan Chargers, who were placed last then, in the penultimate league match. That meant they ended up finishing fifth, with eight wins in 16 games.

In 2012, RCB had an up-and-down season overall, losing three matches in a row at one point and then winning three on the trot. They seemed on track for a berth in the final four, winning three in five matches, but their shambolic batting display against Deccan Chargers saw them bow out of the tournament.

Key foreign players: In Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers, RCB have two of the most destructive batsmen in the world. Gayle has almost always been the highlight of the RCB batting, and was the leading run-scorer in the 2010 and 2011 seasons. In 2011, he made 733 runs at an average of 61.08 and strike rate of 160.74. Gayle’s rip-roaring starts were matched by de Villiers’s tasty concoction of cheeky innovation and classical orthodoxy. In fine form now, de Villiers was the leading run-getter in South Africa’s recently concluded One-Day International series against Pakistan – his performances taking him to the top of the ODI batsmen rankings, where he shares the No. 1 spot with fellow South African Hashim Amla.

Among the bowlers, Muttiah Muralitharan, the Sri Lankan great, heads the list of RCB’s spinning options, comprising Daniel Vettori, Murali Kartik and Syed Mohammed. With his guile and ability to keep the run-flow down, Muralitharan, who bagged 15 wickets from 10 matches, will be crucial to RCB’s chances.

Key domestic players: Virat Kohli was part of RCB since he was an Under-19 World Cup-winning captain and, in keeping with his international reputation that’s growing by leaps and bounds over the years, he’s now the team captain. He is the 11th highest run-getter in IPL history and has already displayed his aptitude for captaincy by doing an impressive job when team dynamics dictated that there was no place for Vettori, the designated captain in 2012, in the playing XI.

Spearheading RCB’s bowling attack will be Zaheer Khan, who has played a major role for the team in the last two years. With his experience and his ability to throttle the scoring rate in the death overs, RCB will need an injury-prone Zaheer to be fully fit during the two-month tournament. Alongside Zaheer will be Vinay Kumar, RCB’s leading wicket-taker in 2012. Vinay relies on accuracy and has been handy with the bat too, on occasion.

Pre-season trades: RCB bought seven players in the 2013 auction, with each one either a pace bowler or a seam-bowling allrounder. The list included RP Singh, Jaidev Unadkat, Pankaj Singh, Ravi Rampaul, Moises Henriques, Christopher Barnwell and Daniel Christian.
They then transferred in Murali Kartik from Pune Warriors to balance the excessive seam-bowling options somewhat. Earlier, they had let go of Dirk Nannes, who spent the entire 2012 season on the bench, an unfortunate casualty of the four-foreigners-only rule. They had also released Luke Pomersbach, the bad boy of IPL 2012.

Strengths: RCB’s intimidating top order, manned by Gayle and strengthened by Tillakaratne Dilshan, who is coming off some good form against Bangladesh, with Kohli and de Villiers to follow, is capable of decimating any bowling attack. The side isn’t too thin on bowling resources either, with Muralitharan at the forefront.

Weaknesses: In the past two seasons, RCB has exhibited a worrying over-reliance on Gayle and, more often than not, when Gayle hasn’t got going, the team has lost. The most galling of those losses was the 2011 final, when Gayle was dismissed without scoring as RCB sunk to defeat against Chennai Super Kings.

The squad: Virat Kohli (capt), Mayank Agarwal, KP Appanna, S Aravind (injured), Arun Karthik (wk), Sheldon Jackson, Murali Kartik, Zaheer Khan, Abhimanyu Mithun, Abhinav Mukund, Karun Nair, Pankaj Singh, Prashanth Parameswaran, Harshal Patel, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sandeep Warrier, RP Singh, Sunny Sohal, J Syed Mohammad, Saurabh Tiwary, Jaidev Unadkat, Saurabh Tiwary, Vinay Kumar, Vijay Zol, Christopher Barnwell, Daniel Christian, AB de Villiers (wk), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Chris Gayle, Moises Henriques, Andrew McDonald, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ravi Rampaul, Daniel Vettori.

Royal Challengers’ Bangalore record in previous IPLs

2008: Finished seventh out of eight teams, narrowly avoiding the wooden spoon.
2009: Lost to Deccan Chargers in the final by just six runs.
2010: Lost to Mumbai Indians in the semifinals but beat Deccan Chargers to finish third.
2011: Topped the league stage, but lost in the final for the second time, this time to Chennai Super Kings.
2012: Failed to qualify for the final four after losing their final league match against Deccan Chargers, leaving them tied with Chennai on 17 points, but with a worse net run-rate.