Such is the accelerated nature of T20 cricket that upon the smallest events can seasons hinge.
The slightest moment lost can quite quickly spiral into a more existential defeat, a defeat that transcends the isolation of its immediate repercussions.
For the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), that moment could well prove to be Chris Lynn's sensational boundary catch; its staggering manifestation a psychological rubber stamp to their belief that perhaps that match, that match in which they needed just 29 off 26 yet failed to win, was never meant for them.
Of course, no match is meant for anyone, and that match was as much lost by Sunil Narine’s sprinkling of stardust to remove Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh’s 34-ball 31 and AB de Villiers’ 12-ball 11 than Lynn’s catch. But so much of cricket is played in the mind, and that defeat, sealed by that catch, will have shocked and scarred the Royal Challengers.
Just two days later, RCB seemed surprised by the extra bounce in the Abu Dhabi pitch—de Villiers and Sachin Rana dragging on, and some excellent Rajasthan Royals bowling; yet they also appeared lazy—Parthiv Patel was run out, Virat Kohli pulled straight to mid-wicket and Albie Morkel failed to get to the pitch of a Pravin Tambe delivery.
But before you knew it, their misjudgement of the pitch, insouciance and some good bowling had seen them rolled out for 70, and they were 13 overs away from consecutive defeats, having been just millimetres away from three consecutive victories just days before.
Any sense of form or momentum that RCB may have garnered from their opening two victories—that were perhaps counter-intuitively comfortable—disappeared within days.
Having been close to joining the Chennai Super Kings and Kings XI Punjab in the runaway group at the top of the table, they suddenly found themselves perilously close to becoming embroiled in a mid-table dog-fight.
Thus their match against Kings XI Punjab in Dubai on Monday was their chance to avoid such a scenario and claw back some lost ground.
As it was, the mistakes, poor fortune and impressive opposition of the Rajasthan defeat were perpetuated in Dubai against the Kings XI.
Chris Gayle, in his return to the side and perennially unperturbed by the struggles of others, threatened ever so briefly to blow away the pervasive influences of his team's poor form in a whirlwind innings, but excitement got the better of him as he charged too hard and too fast one too many times.
Kohli got a bad decision, and Patel got a good ball, but de Villiers' loose, half-hearted push was indicative of a man in poor form; so too was Yuvraj’s mistimed pull-shot, while Morkel’s footwork made a sloth look proactive.
The frustrations of this absurdly powerful batting order yet again failing to impose itself were betrayed by RCB's captain Kohli in the field, anger marking his face for what seemed like the entirety of the Kings XI innings.
Of course, he has reason enough to be vexed; his outrageous batting order has dramatically imploded in their last two-and-a-half matches, and with four points from five games, time is running out for them to rediscover winning ways.
They are a batting order boasting immense talent, but ghosts of matches past, misfortune and poor form are corrupting the finest of minds.
Kohli and RCB can draw strength, albeit alongside more frustration, from the impressive and promising displays of their bowling attack. Obviously successful in their opening two fixtures, the bowlers have maintained such form whilst their batting team-mates have not.
Yet, while crucially the struggles of sides such as the Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kolkata Knight Riders are based in personnel issues, the same cannot be said for RCB who have most bases covered. If only their players could find some form, they’d be an imposing team.
With players of the quality RCB have, it is unlikely that they will collectively struggle for much longer. Form is temporary and class is permanent. It's how long this temporary run of poor form for the likes of Kohli and de Villiers continues that is relevant. That class needs to shine through before it is too late.
RCB are fortunate that the Super Kings and Kings XI are pulling away as they are, for it may become a bitter scrap for third and fourth amongst teams who may take points off each other regularly.
Seven wins is normally the minimum threshold for qualification in the IPL—at least historically that has been the case—and with 10 matches to go, that leaves RCB searching for five wins to reach that mark.
Seasons can, as RCB know, turn on the smallest of moments. They'll be hoping for such a moment as they return to India and to Bengaluru on Sunday against the Sunrisers.
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