On the eve of their departure to Hyderabad for the IPL season opener, Royal Challengers Bangalore were still searching for replacements for the injured Virat Kohli and KL Rahul. Four potential alternatives, wicket-keepers N Jagdeeshan (TN), Vishu Vinod (Kerala), Karnataka all rounder Pawan Deshpande and HP’s Prashant Chopra were put through a stiff nets session at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium where pace bowlers, Tymal Mills, Adam Milne and Shane Watson were giving them a working over.
Indeed it has been that sort of a last-minute shuffling for RCB as they initially lost the services of pace ace Mitchell Starc and then just before the start of the IPL season were delivered a double whammy by injuries to two other key players, Kohli and Rahul.
But the shocks didn't end there. They just kept coming. AB deVilliers, RCB's most innovative and destructive batsman is not fit to play the opening match. He suffered from a back strain back in South Africa, but was expected to be fit and ready for IPL. However, an RCB media release late at mid-night said that he was expected to be ready only for the home match on 8 April.
If these weren't bad news, Sarfaraz Khan injured his leg while fielding in the final practice match and had to be carried out on a stretcher. This certainly doesn't augur well at the start of the tournament and the news that RCB thought it serious enough to intimate the IPL Governing Council makes the injury, and situation, worse.
But there are silver linings. Ironically it comes through the intuitive purchase of left arm paceman, Aniket Choudhary at the February auction.
The tall, burly Rajasthan fast bowler was a nets bowler for the Indian team through the winter solely because the team wanted to practice against somebody who’d bowl from similar angles as Aussie paceman Staarc. In the process Choudhary impressed Indian skipper Kohli so much that he asked RCB to purchase him.
Bought for Rs 2 crore the paceman would opportunely fill in for Staarc. Choudhary, who over the years has been coached by Greg Chappel, South African Meyrick Pringle and Australia’s Glen McGrath, bowls at a searing 145 kmph. His experience of regularly bowling to all the top Indian batsmen in the nets these past three months would have honed his skills sufficiently. So much so he could well be the next big pacer coming through in the IPL.
Another rookie fast bowler who could get a break would be Avesh Khan. The young fast bowler came through junior cricket and his sharp, probing bowling in the under-19 World Cup caught the talent scouts’ eye.
Actually RCB looked a pretty good bowling unit last season even if at times they struggled to defend huge totals at home. Thus the inclusion of T20 master pace bowler Tymal Mills of England, along with left arm spinner Pawan Negi and the two rookie fast bowlers, should give the team more options. There is also the giant Aussie Billy Stanlake and it would be interesting to see how RCB use this raw pace bowler.
As it stands, the team has assembled a wonderful bowling unit which includes Sreenath Arvind, who did pretty well last season, Watson, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kiwi paceman Adam Milne, Samuel Badree, Harshal Patel, Tabraiz Shamsi, among others.
RCB looks well covered in the pace and spin department though the onus would be on the bowling mix they go with in different pitch conditions.
Unfortunately RCB’s worries in the batting department are aplenty, simply because Kohli who was in sensational form last season won’t be available for the early part of this season. Kohli made a humongous 973 runs with 4 centuries and 7 fifties in the ninth edition of IPL. That’s the sort of run feast that took the team to the final.
While Kohli might turn out later in the tournament, Rahul, another success story, is completely ruled out. He is expected to go under the knife to sort out issues with his shoulder and rest and rehabilitation would ensure that he sits out this season.
RCB would be expected to open the batting with master blaster Chris Gayle who is 63 runs shy of being the first batsman to score 10,000 runs in T20 cricket. He is also just one six away from notching up 150 sixes at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium! His opening partner would be Watson, another big hitter. The explosive AB de Villiers could have been expected to come in at number three. But if he does not play the opening matches, Australia's Travis Head could get a look-in.
ABD, when he gets to playing, would sorely miss the superb running between the wickets with Kohli. Both ran fielding teams ragged. Neither Gayle nor Watson is anywhere as fleet footed and hence ABD would have to depend solely on his brilliant and innovative strokeplay to harass bowling attacks.
It is after the top three batsmen that RCB’s batting prowess takes a big hit in the absence of Kohli and Rahul. Head scored a century in the Big Bash recently and in ABD's absence might well be the fourth overseas player in the playing eleven; the others expected to be Gayle, Watson and Mills.
In such a scenario, Indian batsmen Kedar Jadav, who could also keep wickets, and Mandeep Singh need to substantially chip in before all rounders Stuart Binny and Negi come to the batting crease. In all probability the sixth batsman’s spot could be a tossup between Sachin Baby and one of the substitute players.
Obviously RCB’s bowling could be adequate but its batting is excessively reliant on its overseas contingent. Unless they deliver match after match RCB could be in for testing times this season.
RCB squad: Pawan Negi, Tymal Mills, Aniket Choudhary, Praveen Dubey, Billy Stanlake, Virat Kohli (c), AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle, Yuzvendra Chahal, Harshal Patel, Mandeep Singh, Adam Milne, Sarfaraz Khan, S Aravind, Kedar Jadhav, Shane Watson, Stuart Binny, Samuel Badree, Iqbal Abdulla, Travis Head, Sachin Baby, Avesh Khan, Tabraiz Shamsi.
Updated Date: Apr 05, 2017 12:27:50 IST