INDIAN PREMIER LEAGUE, 2017
Injuries, familiar problems stand between RCB and silverware
MS Ramakrishnan • Last updated on Sun, 02 Apr, 2017, 09:57 PM
In Kohli and Rahul’s absence, AB de Villiers will have to shoulder much of the batting responsibility at the start of the season. © BCCI
Royal Challengers Bangalore are easily one of the most entertaining teams in the IPL. There’s a Virat Kohli-led enviable ensemble of batters on the field, well complemented by raucous supporters in the stands and millions on YouTube channel. It’s perfect… nearly. For, all that’s missing now, is silverware.
RCB’s batting unit has World Cup and World T20 winners, the No. 1 batsman of the format and even a proven IPL performer. And yet the team has failed to be crowned champions. But it’s also easy to see why they haven’t tasted glory – they’ve been a lopsided, batting-heavy line-up. Kohli left peers, opponents and every single pair of eyes on last year’s IPL, dumbstruck with his unmatched form with the bat. He amassed 973 runs, with four centuries, and single-handedly powered them to the final.
A brand, new edition of IPL, after a long home season, has opened a different, potentially debilitating challenges for RCB. Even their stronger batting suit will now have to be shouldered by different heads following injuries to Kohli and KL Rahul. The captain will be reassessed for participation after a couple of weeks while Rahul, behind only Kohli and de Villiers in the team’s batting charts last season, will give the whole season a miss.
The team were dealt a massive blow when Mitchell Starc – their most potent weapon in the bowling department – opted out of the tournament’s 2017 edition. This meant they had to go hammer and tongs at the auction for a top-class bowler. They showed that by going the distance with a whopping INR 12 crore bid in an intense four-way bidding war for England fast bowler Tymal Mills, who has earned the reputation of being a versatile fast bowler – a prerequisite for one plying his trade in T20s.
The team management seemed to have gone into the auction with a clear mindset, wanting to beef up their bowling battalion. The second most notable addition to the squad was Rajasthan’s left-arm seamer Aniket Choudhary, who was bought for INR 2 crore from a base price of 10 lakh. In fact, when the auctions were happening, Aniket, who bowls at a decent pace and swings the ball, was actually bowling to Virat Kohli in the nets to prepare India for the Starc test ahead of the four-match series against Australia.
RCB look a very good team on paper and with a lot of uncertainties over the reshuffling of squads for IPL-11 next year, they’d hope to give their 100 percent for the title this season, for it could be tough to assemble such a formidable unit.
One individual who’d desperate to perform well on the field is Chris Gayle, who had an average season in 2016. In fact, it was just the second season with RCB where Gayle did not record a triple-figure score, after 2014. He was no more a sure-shot selection in the playing XI despite his decorated T20 career, so much so that he was even left out of the eleven a few times last season. With Rahul ruled out, the need for Gayle to rekindle his best form becomes imperative.
The build up to IPL-10, however, has not been great for the left-hander, with quiet outings in the Bangladesh Premier League and the Pakistan Super League that followed. A good season is vital to Gayle’s future at RCB, especially with the aforementioned shuffling of squads in 2018.
RCB’s batting line-up is undoubtedly the best in the tournament. Even with Kohli out for a couple of weeks at least, Gayle, AB de Villiers and Shane Watson should be able to pack enough in their punch to put bowling sides in trouble and turn games on their head.
A no-brainer really. There is absolutely no doubt that accuracy with the ball, especially in the death overs, has been a major problem for RCB. Barring Starc, who could nail reverse-swinging yorkers at will, they haven’t managed to snap up any special talent. Their big-money buy Mills has the opportunity to rid RCB of their bowling woes.
Yuzvendra Chahal’s rise as a quality leg-spinner has been quite impressive with his RCB showing, so much so that he made the national selectors take note and even earned an India cap. This season, he plays a key role in their bowling plans and his consistency levels will be closely monitored.
Pawan Negi, their newest buy, had a forgettable outing last year after going for a massive bid of INR 8.5 crore from Delhi Daredevils in the 2016 auction. This time around, at RCB, he could well be named ahead of Iqbal Abdulla – their second-choice Indian spinner in 2016 – because of his potential to hit the ball long and clean.
Stuart Binny has not quite managed to be in the limelight at the international circuit since the emergence of Hardik Pandya. With RCB likely to have three front-line pacers, the Karnataka all-rounder gives them the extra medium-pace option with swing up front with the new ball, in addition to his big-hitting abilities with the bat. An excellent season could give him a great chance of knocking on the selectors’ doors once more, with India set to move out of their home comforts in the coming seasons.
Many eyes will be on Kedar Jadhav – the finisher. He gave India a lot of hope of fitting into the role in the middle-order during the ODIs against England and his ability to handle pressure situations is something the selectors would want to zoom in on during this season.
Yes, the Chinnaswamy stadium is a great place for fans to enjoy T20 cricket, but the bowlers are generally none-too-pleased. The reason, you ask? Short boundaries and a batsmen-friendly strip. No target is safe and the toss becomes far too vital. It is for this reason, the Chinnaswamy has never quite evolved into a fortress for the home side.
What the schedule holds
RCB would want to have a close eye on how they begin the season. Winning just two out of their first seven games put immense pressure on the team last year, although they won six games out of seven in the second half of the tournament and even managed a top-two finish.They have an even spread of home and away games and also finish off their two games against bogey team Sunrisers Hyderabad well in advance. They close out their season with two games and an away trip to Delhi. It is an itinerary that could have so easily been worse.
The team would be better served if the middle-order manages to stay in good touch through the league phase, should they progress beyond. Kohli and de Villiers batted out most of the overs last year – but the chances of the duo having such a dream season simultaneously yet again could be too much to ask for, even if the two are known to defy the law of averages and probabilities on a routine basis.
Ideal Starting XI: Chris Gayle, Shane Watson, AB de Villiers (stand-in captain), Mandeep Singh, Sarfaraz Khan, Kedar Jadhav, Stuart Binny, Pawan Negi/Iqbal Abdulla, Yuzvendra Chahal, Tymal Mills, Sreenath Arvind/Aniket Choudhary