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Men Tried 16 Times. Women Achieved ‘Ee Sala Cup Namde’ for RCB on 2nd Attempt.

WPL 2024: Smriti Mandhana's RCB strode where the Virat Kohlis and Daniel Vettoris could not walk. Here's how.

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“A Royal Challengers Bangalore shirt, with the number 18 on the back. Do you know what it means?” The Quint had asked Smriti Mandhana, prior to her first match as the team’s skipper.

The rudimentary response would have been generic statements on the sentimental value of the shirt, considering ‘RCB – 18’ solitarily denoted, till then, Virat Kohli.

Instead, Mandhana replied: “Smriti. It means Smriti Mandhana.”

A year later, 'RCB – 18' does symbolise Smriti Mandhana. The Virat Kohlis have tried and failed. And so have the Rahul Dravids, the Anil Kumbles, and the Daniel Vettoris. For sixteen years, India’s Silicon Valley has had some of the more accomplished names in international cricket representing them.

Yet, at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in the national capital, led by Mandhana, the women’s team became the first Royal Challengers Bangalore outfit to lift a trophy, beating a competent Delhi Capitals team to win the 2024 Women’s Premier League (WPL) title.
WPL 2024: Smriti Mandhana's RCB strode where the Virat Kohlis and Daniel Vettoris could not walk. Here's how.

Smriti Mandhana's girls became the first Royal Challengers Bangalore side to get their hands on a trophy.

(Photo: BCCI)

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After the match, Mandhana stated:

I have a message for the (RCB) fans – you are the most loyal fanbase. One statement that always comes up is Ee Sala Cup Namde (this year the cup will be ours). Now, it's Ee Sala Cup Namdu (this year, the cup is ours).
Smriti Mandhana

Only a year ago, however, they followed the footsteps of the men’s team in finding ways of underperforming. With six defeats in two matches, they finished in the fourth position, avoiding the wooden spoon only because of their net run rate.

We delve into what triggered the resplendent revival:

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What Is the Old Saying About Form and Class, Again?

Among the major reasons behind Bangalore’s title triumph was the big ticket players, who were predominantly underwhelming last season, justifying the amount cited in their contracts.

Skipper Mandhana – WPL’s most expensive player, earning Rs 3.40 crore per season – had a disastrous 2023 season. She could only score 149 runs in eight matches, at an average of 18.62.

Fast forward to this season, Mandhana – now enriched with a year of leadership experience – stood out as the tournament’s fourth-highest run-scorer, with 300 runs at an average of 30. The opening batter excelled both with the ballistics and pragmatism, with her 31-run knock in the final laying the foundation for Richa Ghosh and Ellyse Perry.
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Perry, another expensive signing at Rs 1.70 crore, barely made an impression last season. The amalgamation of 253 runs and four wickets might not be subpar for many, but for the eight-time world champion, it was.

Coming into WPL 2024, Perry had form on her side, with T20I half-centuries against England and West Indies in 2023, followed by a rewarding Women’s Big Bash League campaign which saw her finishing as Sydney Sixers’ highest run-scorer with 496 runs.

The all-rounder was dismissed for 8 in the first match against UP Warriorz, but since then, she has barely put a foot wrong. With 347 runs at an average of 69.4, Perry is the tournament’s leading run-scorer, with her seven wickets further amplifying the numbers.

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Faith Is a Good Thing

Besides the renowned names, RCB also showed faith in some of the comparatively lesser-known players after a poor first season. Leg-spinner Asha Sobhana had five wickets to her name last season, whilst conceding runs at an economy rate of 8.35 runs per over.

Considering she is in her thirties, RCB could have opted for a new spinner, but instead, provided another opportunity to Sobhana. On this occasion, the Kerala-born player was ready to capitalise, picking up 12 wickets to be the tournament second-highest wicket-taker.

A few players who already had decent outings in 2023 further escalated their performance, like Shreyanka Patil. Picking up six wickets last season, the 21-year-old is WPL 2024’s leading wicket-taker with 13 scalps, including a four-fer in the final.

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The Battle That Was Won at a Table

The cricketers have had to play out of their skin for the title, albeit RCB’s strategic think-tank deserves their credit for the business at the auction table. Operating with a modest purse and vacancies aplenty, the approach was contrary to what they did in the first season.

Sophie Molineux, signed for her base price of Rs 30 lakh, will be touted as the most effective signing following the final, where she took three wickets in one over to sway the game in RCB’s favour. The Australian left-arm spinner had missed more than twelve months of cricket owing to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, and hence was not on the wishlist of any other team.

With 12 wickets, Molineux finished as the tournament's third-highest wicket-taker.

Another efficacious signing was that of batter Sabbhineni Meghana, whom Gujarat Giants had released after scoring only 81 runs last season. Since then, she made a comeback in the Women’s Senior One Day Trophy, scoring 164 runs for Railways, and has now scored 168 runs in six innings for RCB, including a half-century against UP Warriorz.

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And the Battles Which Were Won on Ground

With all of the individual contributions highlighted, it is crucial to note how RCB performed as a team, especially when they had their backs to the wall.

The tone was set in their opening match itself. Having scored 157/6 against UP Warriorz, Mandhana’s bowlers had conceded 142 runs in 18 overs. Needing only 16 off the last two, the game was the Warriorz’s to lose. Yet, courtesy of two fine overs from Georgia Wareham and Sophie Molineux – both of them being new signings – RCB won the match by two wickets.

Merely scoring 135 runs in the semi-final against 2023’s champions Mumbai Indians, Bangalore were staring at defeat after 17.5 overs. Mumbai were only 16 runs away from another final appearance, with two set batters in Harmanpreet Kaur and Amelia Kerr at the crease.

Kaur lost her wicket to Patil in the last ball of the over, followed by exemplary overs from Molineux and Sobhana, resulting in 10 runs in two wickets.

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In the final, Bangalore found themselves in a spot of bother after Delhi had scored 61 runs in the powerplay, on what was a difficult surface for the batters. The bowlers, once again, turned the tides by picking up all ten wickets for 49 runs.

Lastly, the team, and its players, also learned from mistakes.

On 10 March, Richa Ghosh could feel the weight of expectations on her shoulder, as she was about to face the last delivery of the match against Delhi Capitals. Bangalore needed two runs, but what followed was a wicket.

Only eight days later, on the same ground, against the same opposition, the batter found himself in a similar position – needing three runs off four deliveries. Except now, Ghosh pierced the extra cover.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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