Royal Challengers Bangalore, the perennial ‘underachievers’ of the Indian Premier League (IPL), have time and again over the 13 seasons of the tournament’s history been a threat to other teams, but they never really have proven themselves to be title contenders.
They have assembled star-studded lineups over the years, and for the most part, they begin almost every season with a bang, only to falter in the end.
The Bengaluru-based franchise have been often questioned for their inconsistency and over-reliance on the duo of skipper Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers when it comes to run-chases, apart from the often-persisting death-bowling issues, which have been costly for RCB at times.
While RCB retained a large part of their core group with the likes of Devdutt Padikkal, Mohammed Siraj and Washington Sundar, the Simon Katich-coached side did go for a few uncapped faces like Rajat Patidar, KS Bharat and Mohammed Azharudeen, apart from securing the likes of Daniel Christian and big money buy Glenn Maxwell.
And yet, their most expensive buy this auction was New Zealand’s Kyle Jamieson (Rs 15 crore). The Kiwi pacer has over the last year or so, gone on to become one of the world’s prolific bowlers and will be interesting to see how Bengaluru plan to use him in the death overs.
Meanwhile, just days before the tournament, however, RCB were hit by a couple of COVID-19 positive tests. Last week, Devdutt Padikkal revealed that he had tested positive on 22 March and was isolated, but in a huge boost ahead of the opener against Mumbai Indians, he revealed that he returned negative tests twice and was ready to join the bio-bubble.
The latest recruit to test positive was Australia’s Daniel Sams, after initially testing negative.
With just a day remaining for the start of the 14th edition, let’s take a look at RCB’s strengths and weaknesses, and who could be their key player:
RCB skipper Virat Kohli is set to make a few crucial tactical changes this season, including promoting himself into the top-order. With Bangalore releasing Finch, the top-order was always a vacant spot, and it was only after the end of the England series did Kohli announce that he would open the batting, with Padikkal at the other end.
Padikkal ended up as RCB’s top run-getter last season (473 runs), and while the Kerala-born batsman has become a household name, the opposition will be aware of the damage he could do, especially now with Kohli as his opening partner.
— Royal Challengers Bangalore (@RCBTweets) April 8, 2021
Padikkal, in fact, was the second-highest run-scorer in the Vijay Hazare Trophy (737), so that should help him to continue firing in the IPL.
Then there is the exciting prospect of New Zealand youngster Finn Allen, who was brought in as a replacement for Australian Joshua Philippe, who opted out of IPL citing personal reasons.
The 21-year-old Allen, an U-19 World Cup alumni, has been in prolific form of late, smashing a 29-ball 71 against Bangladesh the recently-concluded third T20I.
Earlier in the season, he even finished as the highest run-getter in the Super Smash T20 tournament in New Zealand (512 runs), with a mammoth strike rate of 193. This included six fifties, and a highest score of 92* in the tournament.
Allen, will thus, provide flexibility to the RCB batting lineup, but might have to battle for a spot in the playing XI with only four overseas spots available.
And then, there’s the potential X-factor Glenn Maxwell. Despite underperforming in the past two editions of the IPL, RCB’s desperate need for a potent finisher ended up in purchasing the Aussie biggie Glenn Maxwell (Rs 14 crore).
If Maxwell does manage to hit from the word go, and RCB would hope he does fire, that would in fact ease the pressure on AB de Villiers, who has been heavily relied on.
Maxwell did notch up two half-centuries in the ODI series against India this year, and he even played a 31-ball knock of 70 in the third T20I against the Kiwis in March.
After all, Maxwell also adds up as an extra part-time spinner, if need be, so RCB will not run out of choices.
Maxwell even got the backing of RCB Director of Cricket Mike Hesson, who said, “He (Maxwell) is fantastic and fits in the middle-order for us. We wanted to have a player of his quality during middle overs and at the back-end as well, he brings in huge amount of experience."
"On his day, he can turn a game on its head. We need to use him in a space where we can maximise his skills and we are looking at how we do that,” the former New Zealand coach added.
Letting go of South Africa’s Chris Morris was a mistake from RCB’s perspective, so much so that they even went up until Rs 9.75 crore in the IPL auctions in February, as they battled against the likes of Mumbai Indians, Punjab Kings and Rajasthan Royals. The South African was eventually snapped up by RR for a mammoth Rs 16.25 crore, becoming the most expensive buy in IPL history.
Morris, who scalped 11 wickets from nine games last season in the UAE, had the best economy rate in the death overs among bowlers in the IPL (7.03), and his overall economy in the last edition was even better (6.63).
In contrast, Jamieson’s recent form could be a bit worrying for Bengaluru. Jamieson conceded the most runs in the recent T20I series against Australia, while picking up just one wicket (1/175), and that too with an economical rate of over 11.
Kane Richardson did scalp 15 wickets from 11 games in the Big Bash League with Melbourne Renegades, but his lack of playing experience in the IPL might be a factor, and again, will have to compete heavily for that crucial overseas spot.
Richardson last played in the IPL in 2016, and despite being bought by Bengaluru last season, he had to pull out of the tournament in UAE due to personal reasons.
Saini, who had a below-par tournament last time around with just six wickets in 13 games, has been in and out of the Indian team due to injuries, and he even missed the entire England series.
Meanwhile, Yuzvendra Chahal will once again lead the spin department. Chahal ended up as RCB’s top wicket-taker (21) last season, and will lead the likes of Washington Sundar and Adam Zampa.
What remains a concern for RCB is their death-overs bowling. And with Chahal likely to operate in the middle-overs and with RCB having let go of Morris, Dale Steyn and Umesh Yadav, they do lack well-established, in-form overseas pacers, with most in their squad having played very few matches or no IPL at all.
Player to watch out for
The prolific wicketkeeper-batsman from Kerala took the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy earlier this year by storm, smashing a 54-ball 137 in a group game against Mumbai. This came a month before the IPL auctions, and during the mini-auction, he was eventually snapped up by RCB for a base price of Rs 20 lakh.
Even recently, he notched up scores of 59* and 52 (both against Karnataka) which came in the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
He could be a valuable asset to RCB, coming into play in the middle-order, and will look to produce swashbuckling performances with an aim to get into the ever-competitive Indian team.
Royal Challengers Bangalore squad: Virat Kohli (Captain), AB de Villiers, Yuzvendra Chahal, Devdutt Padikkal, Navdeep Saini, Washington Sundar, Mohammed Siraj, Kane Richardson, Adam Zampa, Josh Philippe, Shahbaz Ahmed, Pavan Deshpande, Kyle Jamieson, Glenn Maxwell, Dan Christian, Sachin Baby, Rajat Patidar, Mohammed Azharuddeen, Suyash Prabhudesai, KS Bharat.
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