It was the sixth successive defeat for Royal Challengers Bangalore in UAE. It might seem very difficult to digest because they were one side who showed a great deal of improvement in IPL 2020 and in the first half of this year’s IPL, seemed like a completely different entity. Their plans were spot on, batting order sorted, and more importantly, they played like a cohesive unit.
None of that, however, made an appearance on Monday. If anything it was a tragicomedy, explored at the most inopportune of time to deliver a stinking reminder of their bad old days when they would seem bereft of ideas. Factor in the following points and you would get the ground reality.
Protecting AB de Villiers by not giving him gloves meant RCB had to accommodate one extra wicket-keeper in the line-up. Srikar Bharat, who is a better red-ball player than a white-ball force, ultimately took that place even though the side have someone like Mohammed Azharuddeen to be entrusted with the responsibility. Sad as it may sound, it had a domino effect in the entire batting order with Rajat Patidar sitting out. In hindsight, you wonder if it could have been him ahead of Sachin Baby.
It was a conservative move. The reason RCB had Baby ahead of Patidar was to have an extra bowling option despite knowing clearly that such a move normally boils down to frustration. To put things in perspective, RCB had six proper bowling options apart from Baby.
"That was unfortunate for Rajat, that we had to pick a wicketkeeper to bat No. 3. And to be fair to KS Bharat, he's been outstanding in the camp leading up to this game. Certainly deserves his inclusion. And in terms of Sachin Baby - we wanted to have a real batsman at six. We had the ability to still have six bowlers, and once again Sachin is a left-hander and gave us options with the ball if we needed it as well. So that was the reason - with AB not keeping, we needed to make that change at the top,” Royal Challengers Bangalore coach Mike Hesson said.
There is of course Virat Kohli’s insistence on opening the batting. It was crystal clear from the beginning that the thin middle-order would demand his presence more than ever but accumulating major resources at the top, especially with de Villiers and Glenn Maxwell having the maximum load there, simply didn’t make a lot of sense from outside.
"Certainly a discussion but we were pretty clear in terms of Virat batting at the top," Hesson said. "Even during the last campaign here in Dubai a year ago. It's a lot harder to start against spin, potentially coming out at three and if the wicket starts deteriorating... We're pretty happy with Dev [Padikkal] and Virat opening the batting for us.”
Moving on from team selection, RCB’s batting approach left a lot to be desired. Taking from Dale Steyn’s Suresh Raina analogy, Maxwell batted like a school-boy cricketer and not someone who strikes at 150.05 against spinners. Sure enough, Varun Chakravarthy was brilliant last night, but most of his wickets were down to RCB batters not applying themselves in the middle than any devilish nature of the wicket.
For once, you can understand de Villiers' dismissal. He came with the intent of accelerating the scoreboard but all he could last was one ball and it took a fine yorker from Andre Russell to end his stay in the middle. But then what about Kyle Jamieson and Harshal Patel? Surely the two aren’t mugs with the bat but with RCB six down for 63 in 12 overs, they surely could have taken some chances.
"The pitch - the way it played throughout the innings - was more seamer-friendly. Even though Varun had an incredible day, it lent itself to the seamers. Maxwell, AB, Virat - we managed to get on top of all of them, it's very rare as well. RCB started well, but taking a wicket at the backend of the PP changed things for us. Collectively, we took valuable wickets. We haven't turned up for the majority of the tournament, but today was a great start,” Eoin Morgan said in the post-match press conference, encapsulating the match in as many words.
Perhaps, it was a lesson for RCB to understand their own dynamics and figure a way out. They have done well for themselves to be at third place on the points table and a decent nudge here would propel them to the playoffs. For their charismatic skipper, who is having his last dance as a T20 skipper, they owe a good performance and vice-versa.