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Rahul injury, misfiring guns to blame: Ponting

Ricky Ponting analyses how Royal Challengers have gone from 2016 finalists to 2017 cellar-dwellers in the IPL

Former Australia captain and Mumbai coach Ricky Ponting believes the injury to Indian opener KL Rahul has played an underappreciated role in Royal Challengers Bangalore's horror Indian Premier League season.

While Ponting says the poor form of star players like Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle has been the obvious cause of RCB's fall from 2016 finalists to 2017 cellar-dwellers, he says the absence of Rahul should not be underestimated.

The right-hander, who averaged 44 in last year's IPL and came into the series on the back of six successive Test half-centuries against Australia, has missed the tournament with a shoulder injury that has also ruled him out of the Champions Trophy.

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"KL Rahul is a massive loss for them," Ponting told cricket.com.au. "He had a terrific back-end to last season. He did some amazing things last year so him not being at the top has been a big loss.

"He and Virat were a pretty formidable opening pair last year. You couldn't argue with what they did last year and they've played a bit of cricket with each other in the Indian Test team for the few months leading in to the IPL.

"So they would have had a good dynamic there at the top of the order and unfortunately that's been missing for them.

"But you have to have replacements for just about every position so that's where they've come undone."

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Rahul opened the batting in six matches for RCB last season, scoring more than 35 on four occasions, and also impressed batting at No.4 when Windies powerhouse Gayle returned to the side to open.

While Rahul has played no part in the tournament this year, Kohli, de Villiers, Gayle and Australian Shane Watson have all misfired as the RCB have won just two of their 13 matches so far.

The star quartet have contributed just five half-centuries between them from 32 innings, having scored 15 fifties and four hundreds as a quartet last year.

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Ponting said the form of Kohli and de Villiers in particular, who missed the early stages of the tournament due to injury, has exposed RCB's reliance on their star players, a strategy that was successful 12 months ago.

"Their big name players just aren't standing up like they did last year," Ponting said.

"They got on an amazing roll at the back end of last year's tournament when Kohli was playing out of his skin, de Villiers was playing well, Gayle was chipping in and Watson was doing a good job with bat and ball.

"But so far Kohli has done next to nothing, there's been flashes in the pan from Gayle and AB de Villiers, but the consistency just hasn't been there.

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"Watson's the other one who hasn't had that consistency and match-winning performances this season that he's had in previous seasons. And he's been in and out of the side and up and down the batting order to a degree. They've got some issues there.

"It's the same conversation we have about them every year; they rely on too few, as they have done for a while.

"Quite often those few have been quite consistent and been good enough to win quite a lot of games for them. But this season it just hasn't panned out that way."

RCB skipper Kohli has been at a loss to explain his side's slide this year, saying he "can't really pinpoint anything" that's to blame for their drop in form.

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"We've suffered at home, we've suffered away," Kohli told IPL.com. "It's been a season to forget.

"Everything we're trying to do, it's just not happening. If the batting gets runs, the bowlers aren't able to defend it and if the bowlers are getting the opposition out, the batting is collapsing.

"It's really strange. I've never seen something like this in T20 cricket ... it's really energy-sapping and all you can do is carry on and keep trying our hardest.

And to RCB's fans, Kohli added: "I promise things can't get worse than this and next year we hope to come back stronger."

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RCB are likely to make major changes to their playing list for next season when the anticipated 'open auction' will see the majority of players up for grabs.

Ponting expects RCB will try to hang on to the likes of Kohli, de Villiers, Rahul and spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, but says team management will be looking to address the imbalance in their squad, with a particular focus on their bowling attack.

"You need to have great balance and great depth through your whole squad and that's one thing RCB haven't been able to do," he said.

"They're paying a few players a great chunk of their salary cap, which has happened out here a couple of times in the Big Bash. That leaves the rest of your squad very exposed and I guess that's what’s happening to them (this season) to a certain degree.

"They made the final last year, but that being said it's the all-in auction next year and they're going to have a look at their depth and their talent. They haven't really unearthed many good young Indian players either.

"You would think they'd have to have a good look at what they've done.

"They play on the best wicket and the fastest, shortest ground which is probably why they've loaded up on the batting side of things. But they need to try and put together the best defensive bowling side they can, because a lot of the time that's what wins you T20 games."

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