The Royal Challengers Bangalore entered the 2023 auction with the smallest purse, but a fairly set first XI. Having not much to spend, it came as no surprise that they were the most inactive team during the auction. Instead, some of the more interesting purchases made by them were the fruits of their scouting program, Avinash Singh and Himanshu Sharma.
Both players have no professional cricket experience, but the RCB scouts seem to rate them very highly. Well, they have done no harm to their credibility, having seen the likes of Devdutt Padikkal, Shahbaz Ahmad and Rajat Patidar make it to the Indian team in just three years of establishing their scouting program.
Have they upgraded from last season?
No, to put it simply. RCB will field the same XI as last season. In all IPL, this is only the second instance of a team having the same set of players in their most expensive XI across two consecutive seasons.
On paper, it reflects the management’s faith in the squad they built at the mega auction. It also allows for the same set of players to be given a longer rope, making them more secure about their spot and the freedom to play their natural game with ease.
As good as it sounds, only time will tell if these reasons can paper over the apparent cracks in their playing XI. Last season, RCB’s openers struggled to get going in the powerplay. While Virat Kohli and Faf du Plessis had evident struggles against spin, even pacers managed to tie them down with tight lengths in the opening phase.
The top-order’s struggles forced their middle-order to bail them out more often than not. Glenn Maxwell scored 300 runs at 169.1 with the bat and took six wickets at 6.8 with the ball. RCB would want him to do more of just that: contribute in both departments and ease the pressure off the top-order and finishers. In addition, Rajat Patidar, Mahipal Lomror and Shahbaz Ahmed also chipped in with crucial contributions to help RCB win games on different occasions. Dinesh Karthik had a once-in-a-lifetime season as a finisher in IPL 2022, and one would have to be really optimistic to believe that he can replicate his success from last season.
What needs to change for them?
No new additions at the top means that RCB will want their batting mainstays to come good this time. Last season, Faf’s run tally was in excess of 400, but nearly half of it came in just two innings. The Chinnaswamy Stadium being their home ground, their skipper would surely want to score faster than his IPL 2022 strike rate of 127. RCB fans will take heart from how he has fared in the first six overs, post the last IPL.
Faf du Plessis in Powerplay, IPL 2022: Runs – 201, SR – 104.7, Avg. - 28.7, Bdarys/Balls: 16.1%
Faf du Plessis in Powerplay, in T20s post IPL 2022: R – 497, SR – 157.3, Avg. – 45.18, Bdarys/Balls: 25.9%
Kohli had a horrid time at the center during the last IPL. A combination of bad luck, poor form and ill-timed shots meant that he just could not buy a run. However, since then, he has shown recurring signs of coming back to form. He also broke his century-less streak by scoring centuries in all three formats in the last six months. It’ll be a huge shot in the arm for their batting lineup to see him have a decent season this time around.
Virat Kohli in Powerplay, IPL 2022: R - 160, SR - 116.8, Avg. - 20.1, Bdarys/Ball: 18.2%
Virat Kohli in Powerplay, in T20s post IPL 2022: R - 159, SR - 109.4, Avg. - 39.75, Bdarys/Ball: 14.4%
Their bowlers have also struggled in the powerplay. It was their worst phase, as they leaked runs across venues and struggled to get early breakthroughs. Josh Hazlewood’s arrival did help them, but Mohammed Siraj’s performance left a lot to be desired. He had the worst numbers for all bowlers who bowled at least 30 powerplay overs in an IPL season. Not a list he would want to top.
He’s been having a dream run in the powerplay in ODIs since IPL 2022, and RCB will dearly hope for him to carry this confidence into the IPL. An encore of his IPL 2021 performance would go a long way in paving RCB’s road to playoffs.
Mohammed Siraj in Powerplay, IPL 2022: W – 5, RR – 10.2, Avg. – 63.4, Balls/Wicket: 37.2
Mohammed Siraj in Powerplay, in ODIs post IPL 2022: W – 24, RR – 4.3, Avg. – 15.2, Balls/Wicket: 21.3
The middle-over phase is where they pulled back in most games. Wanindu Hasaranga proved that he was paid the big bucks for good reason. Harshal Patel might not have been amongst the wickets, but he ensured that the run flow was kept in check. Maxwell and Shahbaz also complimented the duo to keep the pressure on.
Home and Away
The Chinnaswamy Stadium has historically been a graveyard for bowlers. There’s not much in terms of home advantage that RCB can look at, apart from their fans. Intent merchants will have a field day in Bangalore, making it all the more important for the likes of Kohli and Faf to score quicker than what they have in the past few seasons. RCB have a side that is neither too spin-heavy nor too pace-heavy, something that should work in their favor. Barring form/injury concerns, they have a lineup that can compete well across surfaces without having to tinker much.
There’s no denying that Mike Hesson has been fantastic in turning the team’s fortunes around. Since his arrival, RCB have made the playoffs every time. But, he’ll be closely monitoring RCB's tendency to peak too early in the last three seasons. Post Hesson’s takeover, RCB have won 71% of their games in the first half and only 33% of their games in the latter. This will get further exacerbated in IPL 2023. Due to the Karnataka elections scheduled to take place in May, they will be playing only two home games in the second half, making it all the more important that if they start off well, they take the momentum with them while traveling later on.
Wanindu Hasaranga will miss their first couple of games due to Sri Lanka commitments and will be available for selection only from the 10th April fixture against LSG. Michael Bracewell, Will Jack's replacement, should make the XI instead of him. Read more about the signing here.
RCB have a good squad and an even better first XI to compete for the title. But, they would be wary of the fact that they have multiple players returning from injuries, and their backups are still unproven at this level.
Since publishing this article, there have been a few developments in the RCB camp.
Josh Hazlewood flew back home in the middle of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, to continue his recovery from Achillies tendonitis. He's still not linked up with RCB, and could potentially miss a few matches at the beginning of the tournament. Bangalore might not feel his absence as much, with potent backups in David Willey and Reece Topley available in the squad.
Rajat Patidar is expected to miss at least the first half of the tournament, and that'll be a huge blow for Faf's men. One option is to bring Anuj Rawat in at the top and slot Virat at #3. But, Virat at #3 has been tried thrice in the last three years and has failed every time. The other option is to bring Manoj Bhandage/Suyash Prabhudessai into the middle order and play Glenn Maxwell/Mahipal Lomror in the top 3.