For the second time in as many matches, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) conceded in excess of 200 runs, and for the second match running, they lost by a sizeable margin. RCB’s 46-run loss to Mumbai Indians on Tuesday could be attributed to a variety of factors, but when your two main bowlers return with a combined tally of 5-0-64-0, or when you end up bowling 16 extra balls by way of wides, or when the opposition, despite losing wickets off the first two balls, ends the powerplay with 60 runs, it does point towards a bowling attack that is woefully short of venom and vigour.
RCB have been on this road before: Relying on their batting to make up for their underperforming bowling. For first 10 seasons of the Indian Premier League (IPL), they packed themselves with batting heft and backed themselves to chase down anything. A trophy-less decade indicates that’s not really the best strategy to have. For all the inventions and innovations designed to make batsmen invincibles, and for all the prophecies of bowlers being a dwindling species, it’s still the latter who shape the match — however short the format might be.
This season, RCB grabbed Umesh Yadav, Tim Southee, Mohammed Siraj, Nathan Coulter-Nile, and Washington Sundar to bolster their bowling, but it’s apparent that they are far from burying the ghosts of the past. It is not too preposterous to propose that team’s misfortunes with the ball have returned after a mini-break in their first two matches.
Against Mumbai, they had the best possible start, but the hosts showed that life exists even at 0/2. In middle overs (overs 9-15), the period when Yuzvendra Chahal and Sundar were expected to wrest control, Mumbai scored 67/1. In death overs, with Rohit Sharma in full flight, the hosts plundered 70 runs for the loss of just one wicket.
RCB conceded 13 sixes and hit just seven, bowled 17 extras to MI’s seven, but the starkest contrast has to be in the way the two teams’ spinners bowled. Chahal and Sundar gave away 64 runs from their five overs. MI’s Krunal Pandya and Mayank Markande’s combined figures read 8-0-53-4. Safe to say, spinners turned the match in Mumbai’s favour. Neither Chahal, nor Sundar could extract any turn from the surface, and as their bowling coach Daniel Vettori later pointed out, the duo was made to bowl defensively by the rampaging opposition.
"Washington and Yuzi were probably in defensive positions as Lewis and Rohit were going bit more aggressive. And so, we probably bowled a bit more defensively," Vettori said. "When the Mumbai spinners came on, they were in a really good position, and that allowed them to actually bowl a little more attacking, with a bit more flight, put something on the ball, and you saw the rewards they got. But they (Mumbai) batted exceptionally well, and that was the difference between when our spinners bowled and when their spinners bowled."
The pacers did no better either. For some reason, they were reluctant to bowl full, despite the first two wickets coming off well-pitched deliveries. Chris Woakes couldn’t complete his quota, Umesh Yadav went for nine-an-over, and the Kiwi all-rounder Corey Anderson conceded 47 runs in his four overs, including a 21-run final over. Siraj, on RCB debut, bowled a 16-run first over but conceded only 18 in his next three to emerge as RCB’s most economical bowler of the night.
In a space of three days, RCB have conceded their third and fourth highest totals respectively, and the tournament has just begun to warm up. This was just their second away game of the season — they lost their first too, in Kolkata — and a punishing schedule, blotted with bungling bowlers and underperforming batsmen, awaits.
Their only high point of the night was skipper Virat Kohli. The prolific right-hander followed up his half-century against Rajasthan Royals with a sublime unbeaten 62-ball 92. He played the first and last balls of RCB innings, scored 55 percent of his team’s runs on the night, became the leading run-getter of this edition of the league and the tournament overall, and became the first batsman to score 5,000 IPL runs.
For all his exploits, he had this to say, “I don't feel like wearing this (orange cap) right now because it really doesn't matter.” The frustration is understandable. AB de Villiers and Anderson picked out fielders with clinical precision, Sundar got out to an atrocious shot, and Sarfaraz Khan failed again. RCB now go back to Chinnaswamy Stadium, where they are scheduled to play their next four games, but nothing less than a mighty turn of fortunes would make them feel at home. They are swiftly moving towards the precipice; the faster they arrest the slide, the better.