Match 42: RCB versus KXIP in Bengaluru, April 24
The collective noun for a group of goats is a “trip”. A trip of goats.
To debate whether Dale Steyn is the greatest fast bowler (GOAT) of all time is futile – you cannot definitively compare across eras. But Steyn certainly belongs in any trip of GOATs, alongside Holding, Marshall, Garner, Roberts, Lillee, Thompson, Anderson, Imran, Kapil, Wasim and Waqar, to name a few.
Royal Challengers Bangalore took over six matches this season to learn that its opening attack lacked incision. In the six straight losses at the start of the season, across 36 power play overs, RCB bowlers managed to take just three wickets. This is double-edged – lack of strike power at the start means that opposing teams are able to build stable platforms at a healthy strike rate. Steyn came down to lead the attack starting April 19 against KKR – and look what happened:
RCB took out 3 wickets for 33 in the powerplay against KKR at the Gardens, and followed it up with 4/28 against CSK last Sunday. 12 overs, 61 runs, 7 wickets – with Steyn claiming four, including arguably the best yorker of the tournament, a searing delivery that angled across CSK southpaw Suresh Raina, then swung in late, beat the batsman for sheer pace, and landed an inch in front of middle stump. The chart shows the twin effects: More wickets at the top means two things: The batting side has less resources to build in the middle and explode at the end, and it means the opposition cannot take advantage of the field restrictions at the top.
RCB still needs to tinker with its bowling, where Umesh Yadav and Siraj are too expensive, and thus give away the advantage of Saini, Chahal and Moeen. In the earlier RCB-KXIP encounter for instance, on April 13, Umesh and Siraj gave away 96 runs for just one wicket in eight overs, whereas Saini and the two spinners had a combined spell of 12-0-75-3, including 32 dot balls off the 72 legitimate deliveries they bowled collectively.
Another issue here is Kohli’s tendency to forget the resources at his command – for instance, in its previous game against CSK, Umesh Yadav’s two wickets cost him 47 runs; against that, Pawan Negi bowled a solitary over (seven runs), and Moeen Ali did not bowl at all, though the wicket did have something in it for spinners (Chahal 4-0-24-1). This is clearly another area it needs to work hard at.
Steyn has to a large extent solved one of RCB’s two major problems, but it still has an equally big one to deal with – with the bat it is as underwhelming in powerplays as it was with the ball. And to give the problem a name, it is Virat Kohli.
In comparison with the previous season, Kohli’s dot ball percentage is up and the strike rate is down in all three phases of the game. Ironically, the much-maligned Ajinkya Rahane is actually doing better than Kohli – the Royals opener strikes at 140.7 versus Kohli’s 133.91; Rahane has 36 fours and seven sixes versus Kohli’s 39 fours and 8 sixes. Rahane is 14th in the list of batsmen with the best strike rates this year; Kohli ranks 24th.
It is not that Kohli is off form; it is that he is batting in the wrong position, at number one. Trust MS Dhoni to figure his successor out. In the first CSK-RCB meeting, Dhoni packed the off cordon and put a slip in place for Harbhajan Singh, bowling the second over. The offie bowled just short of good length (can’t drive) and the line just outside 4th stump (can’t cut because point, can’t glide because slip). Kohli went deep in his crease to try and pull; the ball turning in cramped him and he holed out at midwicket.
This Sunday, sussing out that there was swing to be had, Dhoni went the other way: Slip and gully, plus point well inside the circle; Deepak Chahar bowling back of length on 5th stump swinging it further away.
Given the line, Kohli couldn’t play off to leg; given the slip/gully combo, he couldn’t glide to third man. It was the powerplay; he had to score, and the only option left was the booming drive – a risk-laden shot when the ball is swinging. Sure enough, Kohli nicked off.
You can bet big money Ravi Ashwin, whose shrewd captaincy is one of the talking points of the season, will have watched those replays a dozen times. Ashwin bowls off spin in the powerplay, and for the swing element he has Mohd Shami. The India seamer ranks tenth in the list of bowlers who send down the most dot balls – 88 of his 240 deliveries this IPL have not been scored off (Ashwin 69 dots in 234).
The argument is not that Kohli is not as good a batsman as he is rated to be – the point is that he should not be opening, because it forces him to go big just when conditions are stacked against his style of batting. And if the problem is obvious, so is the solution: move Moeen Ali to the top of the order alongside Parthiv Patel. Moeen is in the form of his life – in nine innings, he has been not out twice (which argues that he is not getting enough time in the middle), and he is striking at 163.75 with two 50+ scores – a rate that puts him at number five in the strike rate list this year, ahead even of Rishabh Pant.
Do that, and you two players capable of going hard in the power plays, with Kohli and de Villiers (strike rate 152.29) at three and four. You solve two problems in one shot: RCB’s slow starts (largely because Kohli, who opens, has his sights set not on maximizing the powerplay but on batting deep) and slow progress in the middle overs. I don’t expect this to happen, though, because for all of Kohli’s excellence as a batsman, he is not the brightest bulb in the chandelier when it comes to captaincy.
KXIP needs the win here – currently they are level with SRH on 10 points, but Punjab has played a game more, and has a negative run rate t(minus 0.044) to SRH’s positive run rate (0.737).
Punjab lost its home game to Bangalore April 13 when the visitors chased down 174 with four balls, and eight wickets, to spare on the back of a Kohli-de Villiers duet (67 off 53 and 59 not out off 38 respectively), despite a Gayle special of 99 not out off just 64 balls.
Punjab has fewer identifiable problems than RCB. In a head to head, Kings matches RCB in terms of scoring rate in the powerplay; it is clearly ahead in the middle overs (Kings in fact has the best scoring rate in the middle phase of all teams, thanks to either Rahul or Gayle going deep with Mayank Agarwal stepping up as well. It is only at the death that RCB is ahead of the Kings.
Rahul and Gayle are in prime form – between them, the two openers have scored 820 runs this season including four 50s each (plus a century to Rahul while Gayle has a 99 not out). Gayle opens a tad slow by his standards but then explodes; Rahul starts off smoothly, then settles down to bat deep – note, as exemplar, that while Gayle strikes at 159.46, Rahul goes at 127.88 but against that, Rahul has carried his bat three times in ten innings, providing a rock solid spine for his side.
Where KXIP needs to click is for its power-packed middle order of Mayank Agarwal (227 runs in 9 innings at 139.26), David Miller (179 in eight at 139.06, and the tempestuous Sarfaraz (180 in five knocks at 125.87) to up their collective game so the burden of putting runs on the board does not rest entirely with the Gayle-Rahul combine.
With the ball they have less issues than RCB. Ravi Ashwin (11 wickets) and Mohammed Shami (13 wickets) strike hard and often with Sam Curran chipping in with seven wickets. Murugan Ashwin is the middle order enforcer, bowling with a good economy rate of 6.42.
The Chinnaswamy is one of those grounds where batting bit is easier in the first half of the innings against the harder ball; as it turns soft and bowlers take the pace off, it gets progressively harder. Keep this factor in mind when you consider the run rate chart – KXIP is way better in the powerplay and the middle phase; against that, those are precisely the areas where RCB lags.
And finally: This might seem like sacrilege and is difficult to quantify, but Ravi Ashwin is the shrewder of the two captains, and in a game as balanced as this one is, that can make a difference.