Royal Challengers Bangalore started the season with four wins in a row. That seems a lifetime ago. In three of the next four, they have suffered the most one-sided defeats of the season.
Back when the tournament was progressing rather normally in India, it was the Chennai Super Kings who put a halt to what seemed like a RCB juggernaut then. “Today was not my day” was a tongue-in-cheek remark by Ravindra Jadeja for a catch he put down during the second innings. In reality, he was the single point of difference between the two sides. First by thumping Harshal Patel for a 37-run last over. And then breaching the defence of Bangalore’s lynchpin batters at four and five.
“It's good to get a performance like this out of the way early in the season.” These were the words of Virat Kohli after a 69-run defeat. Sounds familiar? Replace the word "season" with “second-half” and you have Kohli’s remark after a nine-wicket defeat against Kolkata in the last game.
An imperfect side vs a settled outfit
Among the top four sides on the points table as of now, RCB have the most vulnerabilities. At least in the batting department. The presence of Glenn Maxwell has added to the Kohli-de Villiers support system but there still remain three positions in the top seven for which they have not found any answers. This is unlike the other sides in the top half who – subject to fitness – have tested and successful names in each of the top seven spots.
RCB have tried four batsmen at three, five at number six and four at number seven. These spots have become a revolving door with no coherent strategy. Rajat Patidar was the incumbent number three in the first half when de Villiers kept wickets. Now they had no choice but to pick another gloveman since de Villiers is not keeping wickets to manage his workload.
The choice of the player was yet again questionable. RCB opted to hand a debut to KS Bharat who has a career T20 strike rate of 105.5 while not opting for Mohammed Azharuddeen who bats a rate of 142.3.
In the auction, RCB bought Sachin Baby to have a left-hander in the middle-order. In principle, it makes sense especially after Washington Sundar became unavailable due to an injury. But, given he wasn’t bled early on in the first half, he does not have the rope big enough to fail. If Wanindu Hasaranga is into Bollywood numbers, “Ye kahan aa gaye hum [where have we come]” must have been ringing in his head after his first IPL game.
To create an illusion of a lengthy batting line-up, RCB have failed to utilize their resources with a higher potential. It might appear naïve to change personnel after just one outing. But they can try to use the options they have better. Harshal has batted at a strike rate of 180.8 at number nine and has mostly batted when there is nothing to gain. RCB’s three, six and seven have a collective average of 9.7. By promoting Harshal, they have nothing to lose.
RCB are up against a side that are on a roll. When stars are in alignment for MS Dhoni, his team finds a way to win. That is what happened in their first game of the second-half against Mumbai. Losing potentially five wickets inside the first six overs, CSK, with a little help from Dwayne Bravo and a lot from Ruturaj Gaikwad, continued their winning run.
In a largely settled unit, the only point of contention will be the fitness of a couple of crucial players. Ambati Rayudu retired hurt after a blow off a hand grenade from Adam Milne and did not take the field. Deepak Chahar was seen holding his leg while bowling his last over. CSK’s head coach, Stephen Fleming, confirmed after the game that Rayudu’s scans revealed no fracture while Chahar’s discomfort was a cramp. Sam Curran is available after quarantine but after what Bravo delivered with bat and ball, CSK might not opt for the swap just yet.
We are back in Sharjah
In the IPL last year, the games in Sharjah were an anomaly. The conditions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai provided a contest between bat and ball. Whereas, with short boundaries and a road of a wicket, the first few games in Sharjah seemed like played on a video game at an easy mode. Each of the first seven innings at the venue saw a total of 200+. Things normalized a bit as the tournament progressed.
CSK have already been a dominant team with the bat this season, striking at a rate way above any other side. If the conditions in Sharjah remain as they were early in the last season, they will push out batsman after batsman each with a license to have zero care for their wicket. Pretty much their success mantra so far this season.
RCB: Virat Kohli (c), Devdutt Padikkal, KS Bharat (wk), Glenn Maxwell, AB de Villiers, Sachin Baby, Wanindu Hasaranga, Kyle Jamison, Harshal Patel, Mohammed Siraj, Yuzvendra Chahal
CSK: Faf du Plessis, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Moeen Ali, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni (c & wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo/Sam Curran, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar, Josh Hazlewood