"For RCB, you always felt they will be chasing a gun death bowler... Then the first thing you realise is they've spent 15 crores on Yuvraj Singh and you think, 'Oh, sh!t! They aren't in the market for that!'" – Rahul Dravid
That is the Royal Challengers Bangalore in a nutshell. Season after season, they have gone out of their way to overload their batting unit with little emphasis on strengthening their bowling attack.
For a team with the lowest win percentage of 40.7% since IPL 2018, RCB has a huge fan following and thus expectations. The reasons behind this are twofold: one, a captain who is one of the most passionate cricketers around. And two, his deputy being the most adored foreign player in India ever. For a team with two of the best all-format batsmen in the modern era in Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, the expectations are justifiable.
However, a dearth of impactful bowlers, tactical blunders and knee jerk reactions leave the team and the fans frustrated. The lack of good bowling resources, especially in the pace department, is of their own making. In the mega auction in 2018, they spent 7.4 crores to buy Chris Woakes. He ended up playing only 5 matches with an economy of 10.4, worse than 83% bowlers since.
In the latest auction, after KKR outbid them for Pat Cummins, they spent 10 crores on Chris Morris. Rather than waiting for Sheldon Cottrell who could have added variety to their attack that includes three Indian right arm-pacers, they hurried into buying a pacer with an economy of 9.6 in IPL since 2018
For a tactical blunder, look no further than the choice of Corey Anderson as a replacement for Nathan Coulter-Nile in the 2018 season. To aggravate the error, the management assigned him the task of defending 71 in the last five overs against a rampaging MS Dhoni. Known for his batting over bowling, Anderson conceded 48 runs in 16 deliveries. CSK won with two balls to spare and Anderson never played an IPL game again.
The examples of knee jerk reactions are plentiful. Playing for Rising Pune Supergiant, Washington Sundar was the best young player in IPL 2017. Since coming to RCB in 2018, he has played 10 matches in two seasons. Twice he lost his place in the side after bowling just one over that went for 14 and 15 runs respectively. In this period, he has represented India in 22 T20Is. It is beyond comprehension that a player talented enough to represent an international side struggles to find a place in his franchise. Releasing a hitter of the calibre of Shimron Hetmyer after a look for five matches last season highlights the acute impatience within the management.
RCB batsmen have maintained a run-rate of 8.63 in IPL since 2018. Overall, it is the second-highest after KKR. But, it is similar to two other teams – DC and KXIP. Hence, even the strongest suit for RCB does not put them in exceptional territory.
Batting in Powerplay and Death Overs
Breaking it down, their combined run-rate in powerplay (1-6) and death overs (16-20) is 9.39. This is next only to KKR and ahead of other teams.
Two batsmen from RCB largely drive this performance and none of them is Kohli. Parthiv Patel’s strike-rate of 147.3 in the powerplay is among the top-5 batsmen with 100 runs in powerplay since 2018. De Villiers’ strike-rate of 254.4 at the death is the highest among all batsmen with more than 10 runs since 2018. In the death overs, Kohli and Moeen Ali also bat with a strike-rate of above 200.
Bowling in Overs 1-15
On the bowling front, contrary to the popular notion, RCB bowling is not all garbage. Since 2018, in overs 1 to 15, their bowlers have an economy rate of 8.1, which is the fourth-best among IPL teams.
Areas of Improvement
Bowling in Death Overs
Death bowling is at the forefront of other weaknesses frustrating RCB and their fans since the past few years. Their economy rate in overs 16-20 since 2018 is 11.55, higher than all the teams. Even in the games that they have won, their economy at the death is 11.33. Their death bowling has nothing to contribute to the team in both wins and losses.
Devoid of a pacer skilled with variations or a mystery spinners, no bowler has been able to stand out in the most crucial death over phase of a T20 innings in the last few years.
Batting in Middle Overs
Another aspect that has let the team down is their batting in the middle-overs (7-15). With a star-studded line up, their run-rate in this phase since 2018 has been 7.71 is the third lowest after CSK and RR.
With all his batting talent, Kohli’s strike-rate in this phase since 2018 is a paltry 123.4. Perhaps, this is because of his intention of being there in the crucial death overs. Since he also opens the batting, it is impractical of him to expect himself to bat throughout the innings in most matches.
By the time RCB played their 12th match of 2019 season, Kohli had lost the toss nine times. He signalled nine with his fingers towards the dressing room, acknowledging the lack of luck with the coin. In the last two seasons, RCB has lost the toss in 17 of the 28 games. Their win percentage in these matches drops to 29.4%. However, teams like MI (17 out of 30) and SRH (21 out of 32) have lost equal or more tosses than RCB. They not only have a higher win percentage in these matches but also are among the most successful franchises.
One might also believe that with the master chaser Kohli in the side, they intend on chasing in a lot more games. But, while chasing their win percentage is 46.1%, better than only KXIP’s 42.8% since 2018.
Prospects for 2020
Apart from Morris, they have bolstered the fast bowing resources with Dale Steyn, Isuru Udana and Kane Richardson. While Steyn can make a difference in the death overs, they will need workload management and prayers to ensure he survives through the tournament.
Given an economy of 8 and a record of 17.2 balls per wickets in T20s since 2018, Udana can be handy with his variations and a left-arm angle. But, IPL can prove to be a different playing field for first timers, like what RCB experienced with Tymal Mills in 2017. Adam Zampa is a ready replacement if RCB need to strengthen their spin attack depending on the conditions.
After proving his credentials at the international level since the last IPL, Navdeep Saini will be a key bowler for RCB. His toe crushers and bouncers can ease their death over pain in this season. Overall, RCB does have options in the pace department at the start of the season.
On the batting front, it is tough to understand the inclusion of top-order batsmen in Aaron Finch and Josh Philippe. Even if we think of them as reserves, the first choice foreign players are middle-order batsmen. With Moeen and De Villiers certain to start, they should reserve the remaining foreign spots for the much in need bowling department.
Two youngsters to look for in this season are Devdutt Padikkal and Shivam Dube. Scoring 580 runs, Padikkal was the top-scorer in the latest Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. If he gets a long run and performs well, it will help Kohli to bat at three, thus providing some depth to the batting. After international exposure in the past year, we can expect Dube to get a longer rope than four matches in IPL 2019.
On paper, RCB have the resources to perform better than the past two seasons. It is up to the planning now to avoid tactical blunders and knee jerk reactions to see them through.