Poor Brendon McCullum. He was in the team only because the explosive AB de Villiers was indisposed. McCullum had batted combatively to make a satisfying 38 in Royal Challengers Bangalore’s best opening partnership of the season – 67 runs – against Kolkata Knight Riders at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Sunday when a journalist stunned him with a doosra. Did the team miss the services of de Villiers, he asked his replacement!
McCullum looked incredulously at the journalist for a moment before he and the rest of the room burst out in loud laughter. After that he could not hold back embarrassed chuckles right through his reply.
It was that sort of a post-match media conference. McCullum insisted that the bowlers and batsmen had done their job according to plan but the fielding was disappointing and caused the narrow defeat. “If only some catches had stuck and others gone to hand,” he said wistfully.
But Royal Challengers Bangalore’s cup of woes had overflowed long before they spilled sitters.
Every franchise builds its team on the premise that 50 per cent of its matches would be played on its home base. Of course there are exceptions, like Kings XI Punjab, whose fan base at home ground Mohali cannot afford to patronise as many as seven IPL matches each season. This forces KXIP to bank on two or more home venues. This year former champions Chennai Super Kings too were uprooted from their stronghold of the Chepauk, but for reasons wholly political.
These anomalies apart, every franchise seeks to fortify its home base and turn it into an impregnable fortress. They thus build their squad accordingly.
The ground, in terms of pitch condition, outfield size and thickness or otherwise of grass on the outfield are all aligned to the strength of the home team. These, along with a partisan home crowd, make an away game a tough proposition for franchises.
The M Chinnaswamy Stadium, RCB’s home ground, is forced to sport a small outfield after a mandatory setback is provided for cheerleaders’ stages and electronic advertisement runners. The ground’s main pitches are tailored to behave differently. Their clay base are of differing properties (tensile strength, binding capacity, moisture retention, etc) and are sourced from river beds of Mandya and Kakinada respectively. While one set of pitches are firm, have a bit of carry and bounce and are decidedly good for adventurous strokeplay, the others are of low bounce and provide plenty of purchase for spinners. These pitches are supposed to be a bit tough on strokeplay.
RCB, though, have met with grief on both sorts of pitches because the die was cast a long time ago – during the auction or may be even earlier when they settled on the team composition.
The team splurged Rs 17 crore on retaining skipper Virat Kohli and Rs 11 crore on de Villiers. Yuzvendra Chahal was offered Rs 7.5 crore but he preferred to try his luck at the auction. The management could have gone for another Indian batsman, KL Rahul and retained him for Rs 7.5 crore. But they let him go and instead inexplicably retained Sarfraz Khan for Rs 1.75 crore.
In 18 IPL games for Royal Challengers Bangalore during the two seasons – 2015 and 2016 (he was injured last season) – Sarfraz did not make a single score of 50. In 18 matches he accumulated a pedestrian tally of 177 runs. He is not known to be a fast runner, and is not exactly a great fielder. His shots lack power too. Yet Royal Challengers Bangalore splurged money on a player whom they could have got at a quarter of the price at the auction.
In three matches this season, he has made a mere 11 runs with a top score of six and an average of 3.6.
Had RCB gone in for a Rahul instead they would still have had enough money to build the team around a formidable batting unit. The latter could have also kept wickets when needed and given the team more options with the mix of players.
Instead they are stuck with one-dimensional Indian players – Sarfraz, Manan Vohra, Mandeep Singh and a whole lot of others.
Murugan Ashwin, the fine leg-spinner that he is, still leaves a lot to be desired while fielding. He seemed to be finding it difficult to grasp even the basic fielding moments against Kolkata Knight Riders and it was quite sad to see him struggle to cut off angles or end up dropping simple catches. Sadly, he isn’t the only player with such weaknesses and that is telling on Royal Challengers Bangalore’s lack of intensity on the field.
Indifferent fielding has ensured that pressure is constantly eased off opposing batsmen. They are either given easy singles to get off strike or catches are being dropped at key moments. At times it is embarrassing to see highly-paid domestic players exhibiting a thorough lack of situational presence of mind.
Against Chennai Super Kings, for instance, Mandeep ran past a stationary Colin de Grandhomme while hitting the last ball of the 19th over for a high catch. This was silly for it ensured that the set New Zealand batsman would be off strike next over. The new batsman Pawan Negi failed to connect the first ball of the 20th over and it ended in de Grandhomme getting run out while attempting to steal the strike. Negi himself was run out next ball in what can only be described as a comedy of errors.
Thus RCB’s problems are not just with the bowling. Some of their cricketers are just not street-smart. They look like a bunch of weekend village cricketers in a professional set-up and this mismatch is playing havoc with the team’s fortunes.