Numbers-wise, there’s no reason to believe this is a rivalry at all. Super Kings are three-time winners, Royal Challengers are three-time chokers in the final. Royal Challengers have lost six out of their seven games at MA Chidambaram Stadium, including two cup finals – IPL 2011 and the Champions League T20 later that year. And Royal Challengers haven’t beaten Thala Dhoni’s men since 2014; even discounting Super Kings’ two-year absence, that’s a long time. What’s the big fuss then? Try asking fans from both sides who they wouldn’t want to lose to. And don’t be swayed by what Mumbai Indians say.
A number of these losses have come from winning positions. Remember Albie Morkel smashing Virat Kohli for 28 off the first six balls he faced to clinch a winner? Or RP Singh’s epic no-ball that had Ravindra Jadeja pick out third man only to win a thriller and trigger the ‘Sir Jadeja’ memes? Remember Dhoni’s monstrous takedown of Royal Challengers’ death-bowling in a high-scoring last-over thriller last year? These are likely to be a handful of games producers will slot in while programming episodes of IPL classics.
It was perhaps an easy marketing decision casting MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli in the promo to launch the new IPL season. Expectedly, it made an impression. To the uninitiated, this advertisement by broadcaster Star Sports plays on the catchphrase that Dhoni and Kohli are ‘just names’ and how it’s really ‘their games’ that matter. The clip shows partisan fans, across various walks of life, alternatively chanting for their preferred star. After hitting a crescendo, the ad fades to a CSK vs RCB finish with a Dhoni wisecrack, “March 23. Don’t be late.”
There’s one final scene in the advertisement that would appear a misrepresentation to those looking for non-existent subtexts in this light-hearted ad. Kohli, who takes up Dhoni’s challenge, uses his red RCB coaster to seal Dhoni’s tea cup, as a sign of things to come. The last word, ironically, has hardly ever been RCB’s, especially in these emotionally-charged encounters against the Super Kings.
Glean on some of the famous games between the two teams for evidence. In 2013, with two required to win off the last ball, RCB appeared to have won the game when RP Singh had Ravindra Jadeja caught at third man, only for the bowler to foot fault and concede a no-ball and the victory. Kohli went from nervous to ecstatic to despondent in three seconds as another win was snatched away from him.
A year earlier, Kohli found himself at the centre of the storm as he conceded 28 runs off six balls to Albie Morkel when a fairly comfortable 43 runs were to be defended from two overs. Last year, at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, it was MS Dhoni’s turn to pull the rabbit out of the hat, as he had done in the 2011 final by bowling R Ashwin to a seemingly unstoppable Chris Gayle in the first over. Everytime RCB took a step in front, CSK took two.
For years now, the travelling fans have been unable to revel in this arena at the Super Kings’ expense, or bounce their way gleefully out while the locals skulk away as those in the yellow get to do in Bangalore.
Kohli believes that it is hard to draw anything from Head-to-Head stats in a T20 game that’s played with vastly different players. Stephen Fleming, an advocate for personnel consistency, staunchly advocates the concept of recall value – the ability to draw from past experiences of playing an opponent.
“Recall does count,” Fleming said on the eve of the game. “Being able to stand up to pressure situations and recall how you dealt with them in the past is a key component in a fast-moving game. Our players are still very skillful but that experience [of having played these games before] counts. I value that a lot. The methods in which you win or compete are very important if you can keep repeating them.”
This contrast is at the very heart of CSKvRCB. It is what adds flavour to the narrative and why the advertisement works in creating a heightened sense of expectation. Kohli’s fire to Dhoni’s ice. Of constant recalibration to continuity. Of faltering promise and sustained success.