Perennial underachievers RCB seek revival after revamp


MUMBAI: The IPL’s perennial underachievers come into the season with a bittersweet mix of having finished last in 2017 and having had a good auction in January. Often slated for splurging on marquee names, Royal Challengers Bangalore spent frugally this year, with only three purchases of more than INR 4 crore (approx. $625,000) and nothing higher than the INR 7.4 crore (approx. $1.1m) for England all-rounder Chris Woakes.

Traditionally a top-heavy batting side, Royal Challengers made clear their desire for balance by letting go of Chris Gayle, KL Rahul and Kedar Jadhav. Instead, they went after specialists for every role – Powerplay batsmen, spinners for all phases, finishers with bat and ball, and strike bowlers up front.

While their retention strategy did not let them keep the same core, the use of right-to-match cards brought legspinner Yuzvendra Chahal and allrounder Pawan Negi back into the squad. Virat Kohli has a large pool of domestic talent to choose from, some of whom have been knocking hard on the doors of the national team.

Royal Challengers have several first-choice spinners: Chahal has taken the most wickets by a spinner in the IPL over the last two years – 35, seven more than Axar Patel’s 28 in two fewer innings. Among spinners who have played at least ten matches over the last two years, two of the three most economical bowlers are in their squad – Washington Sundar (6.16 per over in 10 innings) and Negi (6.82 in 17 innings).

Add Umesh Yadav, the fifth highest wicket-taker among fast bowlers over the same period with 27 wickets, to the mix and Royal Challengers’ long-standing issue of missing a top-class bowling line-up, should be alleviated.

While Royal Challengers may have lost some of their six-hitters between last year’s dismal show and this year’s auction, Kohli and AB de Villiers continue to form a strong top order. Over the last two years, both have been striking significantly higher than their overall T20 strike rate – Kohli at 146 versus a career-rate of his 133.16, and de Villiers at 161.16 versus 146.18.

The trend indicates they are in their primes in T20 cricket and will continue to be among the most formidable partnerships ever seen in the IPL. Together, they have made 2212 runs in 53 innings, with seven-century stands. Only Gayle and Kohli and David Warner and Shikhar Dhawan have made more runs together.

Parthiv Patel, Mandeep Singh and Manan Vohra have played 215 innings in total in the IPL and have been tried in various roles, including as openers. While their experience counts for something, none of them is established as a specialist in any role. With a combined 18 half-centuries between them, they don’t form an inspiring domestic batting line-up.

Furthermore, Sarfaraz Khan, one of their retained players who recently returned to top-flight cricket after a nine-month gap, managed only 70 runs in seven innings for Uttar Pradesh in the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament.

Royal Challengers’ biggest question is about which overseas players to slot into their middle order. While there is little doubt that Quinton de Kock will open, they will decide between Brendon McCullum and Moeen Ali, possibly for the other opener’s position at the expense of one of the overseas quicks – Chris Woakes and Tim Southee. By the time Woakes and Moeen pose availability problems – in May – Royal Challengers will have a pretty good picture of their desired batting combination.

Colin de Grandhomme and Corey Anderson, who replaced the injured Nathan Coulter-Nile, will compete for the finisher’s role at No. 6.

This year’s squad also has Sundar, Moeen and M Ashwin, and it won’t be a surprise if Royal Challengers go for a five-bowler strategy with two specialist spinners. With the strength of their pace attack and their batting power at the top, a more neutral pitch could be a winning formula.

Possible starting XI: 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Parthiv Patel/Manan Vohra, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 AB de Villiers, 5 Sarfaraz Khan 6 Colin de Grandhomme/Corey Anderson, 7 Washington Sundar, 8 Chris Woakes/Moeen Ali, 9 Umesh Yadav, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Navdeep Saini/Mohammed Siraj