Three IPL finals in 12 years. Twice coming close to winning it, and yet so far (against Chennai Super Kings in 2011 final and Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2016). Lack of consistency in winning matches have very often hurt Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), and even the 2019 season saw that: Six consecutive losses in the first six games, which is arguably their worst-ever start to the tournament.
A strong start is very critical, be it any team in any tournament. RCB, coached by Simon Katich with Mike Hesson as Director of Cricket, have won all of their opening games between 2011 and 2016, but have only made the finals twice during this period (and thrice overall) — the major reason being losing rhythm and inability to win high-profile contests under pressure.
RCB skipper Virat Kohli had recently opined that the current squad is the most well-balanced since the one that finished runners-up in 2016. “To be honest, that 2016 season — which we all loved to be a part of and was such a memorable season — since then, to be honest, this is the most balanced I have felt about the squad and as a system, where we are heading,” he had said in an interview on the franchise’s Twitter handle.
Teaser: Virat Kohli Interview Part 2 on Bold Diaries@imVkohli shares his thoughts on the RCB set up and the exciting season ahead. Head to the RCB Official App for the full interview. 📲
— Royal Challengers Bangalore (@RCBTweets) September 7, 2020
Speaking of which, while retaining their core squad with the likes of Shivam Dube, Navdeep Saini, Moeen Ali and Washington Sundar, RCB focused on acquiring a mix of both experienced as well as young talents during the IPL auction, with all-rounder Pavan Deshpande and wicketkeeper-batsman Shahbaz Ahmed being the only Indian recruits during the auction.
Apart from acquiring experienced players like Aaron Finch, Dale Steyn, Chris Morris or Isuru Udana, acquiring 23-year-old Australian Josh Philippe at his base price of Rs 20 lakh was probably a bargain for this RCB side.
He brings with him some immense experience in the Big Bash League (BBL). While he did play an instrumental role in guiding Sydney Sixers to their maiden BBL trophy, what he did catch everyone’s attention earlier this year for, was ending as the tournament’s third-highest run-getter with 487 from just 16 matches.
RCB’s top-order batting
RCB have heavily relied on the star duo of Kohli and AB de Villiers since Chris Gayle’s departure after the 2017 edition. The duo have shared the burden of scoring 1,916 runs among them over the last two seasons.
Depending on just two players to score most of the runs may not be a good sign for a team that is supposed to be the most balanced side according to the captain, but one positive factor for them is the experienced Australian skipper Finch at the top of the batting line-up. Having Finch at the start of RCB’s innings could potentially ease the burden on Kohli and de Villiers, with Kohli likely to bat at No 3 and de Villiers at No 4, provided Finch gets off to an explosive start.
Who could open for RCB with Finch? Well, Devdutt Padikkal, who has been the talk of the camp, could get the nod ahead of Parthiv Patel if de Villiers dons the wicket-keeper’s gloves. Padikkal was in sublime form during the 2019-20 Indian domestic limited-overs season, ending up as the leading run-scorer in both the Vijay Hazare Trophy as well as the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament.
The problem for RCB, however, lies lower down the order, where they do not have experienced batsmen. Gurkeerat Singh Mann, who impressed with a splendid knock of 65 off just 48 balls against Sunrisers Hyderabad at home last year, may get a few more chances while players like Dube and Shahbaz Ahmed too have impressed in the domestic circuit. However, the lower-order line-up looks fairly inexperienced due to their lack of international exposure.
Spin-heavy bowling lineup
Leg-break googly bowler Adam Zampa’s inclusion as a replacement for Kane Richardson might be a blessing in disguise for the Bangalore franchise, thanks to the spin-friendly wickets in UAE.
Zampa has been in stupendous form of late, picking up seven wickets already in the ongoing ODI series against England, and he even recently stated that he was looking forward to relishing a partnership with Yuzvendra Chahal.
Apart from Zampa and Chahal, RCB also have Pawan Negi, Pavan Deshpande and Washington Sundar in their ranks.
However, with just four overseas players in the playing eleven, it remains to be seen where Zampa could fit in, especially with Finch and de Villiers a surety for every match.
Death bowling has been a major worry for RCB. However, in August, the duo of Hesson and Katich seemed to be confident about tackling the death bowling problems, citing Udana, Steyn, Saini and Chris Morris as the solutions to that problem.
“We were very clear about our death bowling and wanted to make sure we got it covered. We went into the auction wanting to fix that,” Hesson had said during a virtual media interaction in August upon arrival in UAE.
Umesh Yadav, too, was retained, but his economy in the tournament’s death overs among all bowlers in the last five years has been the worst.
This may pave the way for Udana, whose slow variations might help the team in slower pitches.
As their core coaching staff mentioned, RCB could heavily rely on the trio of Morris, Steyn and Saini if they do go ahead with Finch and the complete South African trio as permanent overseas players.
Morris, like Yadav, has been expensive over the last two editions, his economy in the 2018 and 2019 editions reading 10.21 and 9.27 respectively, the problem of which is highlighted by his overall IPL economy of 7.98.
All in all, the focus this year will be on not giving away too many runs in the death overs, which could potentially ruin their campaign. Their batting on paper looks settled, with Finch’s inclusion adding more firepower, and on sluggish tracks in the UAE, RCB have a host of spinners to choose from.
RCB squad: Virat Kohli (Captain), AB de Villiers, Gurkeerat Mann, Devdutt Padikkal, Aaron Finch, Yuzvendra Chahal, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Adam Zampa, Dale Steyn, Isuru Udana, Moeen Ali, Pawan Negi, Shivam Dube, Washington Sundar, Chris Morris, Pavan Deshpande, Parthiv Patel, Joshua Philippe, Shahbaz Ahmad.
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