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Cricket news - RCB and the wait to burst the CSK bubble

Dhoni's ice or Kohli's fire?

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."

Perhaps unknown to the makers, the advert serves a dual intent. RCB have perpetually remained late to the IPL party for 11 years now, one of only three original teams never to lift the trophy. Their neighbours in yellow, meanwhile, have won the trophy thrice and given the socio-political history between the two states in question, RCB's misfortune naturally forms the subject of a lot of black comedy among the fans.

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.

Kohli has maintained an aversion to the idea of building rivalries in the IPL. "I don't think it makes any sense," he'd said in 2017. "It's very important to treat it as a league that happens for two months and not probably going into the club culture because in turn you want the fans to be united again when people are playing for their country, that's how I see it."

However, given that both teams are in possession of some of the most boisterous sets of fans, it is hard not to ascribe more context to the game than there is, especially considering that the latest match is always the reference point for the rest of the year. For the record, the head-to-head stands at 14-7 in favour of CSK with RCB's last victory in the 'rivalry' coming in 2014. You'll have to go all the way back to the inaugural season in 2008 for RCB's only win at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.

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.

As another season gets underway, those impassioned RCB fans hoping for an inversion in fortunes would love nothing more than to burst the great CSK bubble. RCB believe a bevy of young players, the Dubes, the Hetmyers and the Naths, who carry no battle scars of previous hearbtreaks, will be instrumental to the season.

"Every team that comes to Chennai has to be considered underdogs because CSK have done so well at home. MS knows exactly what he wants from his team in these conditions. We all have seen that and are aware of it," Kohli said. "It's very easy to be overawed by the support that CSK are going to get. In the IPL, people can get carried away by the support that a team like CSK gets at home but we have to focus on our game," he added, reiterating his stance from the advertisement.

"In the past when we have reached, where we had a chance to win titles, we've expected the game to go a certain way and not really gone there and created a situation where we end up winning that particular match. That has been the breakdown. Poor decision making in crunch situations. That's what we want to correct this season. It doesn't matter how we win or who we are playing against. It is simply keeping up an attitude where we don't give up at any stage and we want find ways to win a game. If it looks ugly, it looks ugly. It doesn't matter."

Existence on the mezzanine just below the elite is never easy. But at least RCB believe they have a plan, and hope of a golden future. When they go out again, all metrics will be set on zero once more.

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