Match 39: CSK versus RCB in Bengaluru
On the 23rd of March, after weeks of
anticipation, the curtain went up on the 2019 season of the IPL – and it was
like buying tickets for a Salman Khan action movie and finding yourself in the
wrong theatre, watching a Ramsay Brothers horror movie instead.
Remember? On the worst pitch in IPL memory, RCB was bowled out for 70 inside 17.1 overs, and CSK took three balls more to chase down the sort of score you normally expect, in T20s, to see shortly after the powerplays.
The return fixture is at Bengaluru, so we are unlikely to see a repeat. Three games have been played at the Chinnaswamy Stadium thus far this seaon, and the first innings scores have been 187/8 (Mumbai); 205/3 (RCB, chased down by KKR 206/5) and 149/8 (RCB batting below par, chased down easily by Delhi in 18.5).
It has rained a bit in Bangalore a couple of times over the past week, which while not enough to really juice the pitch, will have mitigated some of the baking effects of the otherwise intense heat. On balance, Chinnaswamy should for this game be okay for batsmen; the team batting first will want in excess of 175 to feel comfortable.
Tale of the Tape
At the back end of any league-style competition, each game is about jockeying for a place in the playoffs, and in this respect CSK is advantageously placed – it has 14 points from seven wins in nine games and is sure to be in the final four; all it has to play for is to maintain its top-table ranking.
RCB is at the other end of the spectrum: With just four points from nine games, its hopes of making the last four is a chimera at best. You could for argument’s sake say, what if it wins its five remaining games and reaches 14 points – but that is far-fetched, and there is one little noticed aspect that further militates against the possibility.
Thanks to wonky scheduling, RCB has thus far played more away than at home. Which in turn means that of its five remaining fixtures, four will be played at the Chinnaswamy where, this year, RCB has played three and lost all three. (A trend this season has been the inability of the big teams, barring of course Chennai, to convert their home grounds into impregnable fortresses, but that is a different story for a different day).
RCB comes into this game on the back of a good batting performance led by Virat Kohli (and absent AB de Villiers) against KKR, with Kohli scoring a two-paced 100 off just 58 balls and Moeen Ali playing a stunning cameo of 66 off 28. (And despite a sizeable total of 213/4, RCB had to survive a scare authored by Nitish Rana and Andre Russell to pull off a win by just 10 runs).
CSK meanwhile come in on the back of a rare loss, turning in an underwhelming batting performance against SRH and managing to put just 132/5 on the board. But, and this is what should put the wind in CSK’s sails, MS Dhoni who sat out the SRH game to rest a back spasm is likely to be back. Meanwhile, there is yet no definitive word on de Villiers for RCB.
Connect the Dots
There are many ways to examine the batting strength of competing sides, and through the course of this tournament pretty much all of them have been explored in depth. So here, we look at just one factor, and examine the implications:
CSK’s three main batsmen Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu and MS Dhoni are all slow starters; all tend to play a high percentage of dot balls at the start of their innings. A fourth, Shane Watson, is showing his age, preferring to hit boundaries rather than run singles and twos. Here is an illuminating statistic: Watson has 142 runs across nine innings this season – and of these, exactly 100 runs have come in fours and sixes. Even Raina, once excellent at strike rotation, now bats more on the Watson model: of his 207 runs so far, 130 have come off fours and sixes.
The more dot balls you play, the more dependent you are on late innings power-hitting – which is where MS Dhoni comes into his own. But, fun fact, MS strikes at just 127.07 overall, starting slow and accelerating only at the very end most times.
In terms of scoring rates, RCB does decently during the powerplay and the middle; at the death, it is clearly superior to CSK. In contrast, Chennai’s run rate is the least, in all three phases of the game, among all teams this season.
Hence the paradox: How does a team that performs the worst with the bat of all sides still manage to have the best result?
It is always risky to say anything negative about CSK, because the men in yellow have a habit of proving you wrong. That said, this is a clear vulnerability because overall, it means that CSK is over-dependent on winning with the ball rather than posting imposing totals with the bat – a smart move for RCB would be to insert, if Kohli wins the toss.
Clearly, it is with the ball that CSK comes into its own; the bowling contains the key to its remarkable run of successes. Dhoni, a master of the slow choke, has fashioned a team that plays to this particular mindset, and it shows: during the middle phase, CSK has the best economy rate, and the best strike rate, of all teams in the competition.
Basically, that is the whole secret of the CSK gameplan: The team uses Deepak Chahar to keep the opposition from doing too much damage in the power plays: Chahar has bowled 34 overs in nine games, taking 11 wickets (fifth among all bowlers) and boasting an economy rate of just 6.97. Keep in mind that he bowls three of his four overs in the powerplay, and consider this truly remarkable fact: Chahar has so far sent down 204 deliveries, of which an incredible 99 have been dot balls.
Once the game enters the middle phase, CSK has a wealth of options to apply the choke-hold, prime among them being Ravi Jadeja and Imran Tahir. Jadeja has seven wickets to his name at an economy rate of 6.34; of his 192 deliveries, 75 have been dot balls.
Imran Tahir is having the time of his life – the 40 year old is Chennai’s highest wicket taker (and number two overall, behind his Proteas mate Kagiso Rabada) with 15 wickets at a brilliant economy rate of 5.67 and a strike rate of 13.60 (in which he ranks fourth among all bowlers). In terms of keeping batsmen tied down, he is behind his teammate Chahar, but not by much – they have bowled the same number of deliveries, 204; Tahir has 88 dot balls to Chahar’s 99.
If Harbhajan – supposedly recovering from a neck strain – comes back into this lineup, it adds even more potency. The offie, who is now bowling better than he has in years, had seven wickets in his four games; 48 of the 96 deliveries he bowled were dot balls, powering an economy rate of just 5.12.
Compared to that seasoned lineup, RCB’s bowling has been vulnerable this season, necessitating the urgent call up of Dale Steyn, who showed his worth in the winning effort against KKR the other night, taking out both Chris Lynn and Shubhman Gill inside the powerplays.
RCB’s bowling relies heavily on Chahar, who has 13 wickets at an impressive economy rate of 7.71 and a strike rate of 16.15 (in terms of SR Chahal ranks 9th among all bowlers this season).
Navdeep Saini impresses with his pace, but the youngster is yet to learn the deceptive variations that will make his speed potent, and this is borne out by a strike rate of a wicket every 37.2 balls.
Moeen Ali has been a useful performer, but more because of his economy rate of 6.68 than for his five wickets at 26.4 strike rate. Umesh Yadav is the clear weak link – 2 wickets in six games, economy rate of 9.26, strike rate of 62.5.
Consider the matchup: CSK has the bowling to check RCB’s lineup, whereas RCB’s bowling is not particularly potent, relying over much on one man. Chahal has more wickets than Moeen Ali, Navdeep Saini and Umesh Yadav put together, which gives you an idea of where RCB’s main weakness lies.
If CSK can focus on alleviating its penchant for slow starts and a proliferation of dot balls, that is where the game can swing in its favor. RCB will be hoping for another Kohli special – and then, who knows?