IPL 2020, Royal Challengers Bangalore: A four-year wait, a familiar slip (almost), lingering concerns

IPL 2020, Royal Challengers Bangalore: A four-year wait, a familiar slip (almost), lingering concerns

‘The cup is coming home’. The Royal Challengers Bangalore’s (RCB) fans remain hopeful like they have been for the earlier 12 seasons. The RCB win on Monday opened the floodgates of the meme world. A loss would have resulted in the same. But to the netizens, the victory made the already weird 2020, weirder. After all, RCB had won their opening game in the tournament?

When was the last time RCB won their opening game in the Indian Premier League (IPL)? Once upon a time, in 2016, the Virat Kohli-led RCB had beaten the David Warner-led Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) at Bengaluru in both the sides’ opening fixture of the tournament. It’s another story that the same sides met each other in the final with SRH bagging their first IPL trophy.

If the same script is to repeat, Warner wouldn't mind the loss on Monday night. And even if the same script of 2016 was to repeat, even Virat Kohli would probably accept it. RCB finished runners-up, a position Kohli would gleefully embrace. They came very close to laying their hands on the trophy for the maiden time in 2016. Not only have the Bengaluru side lost all their opening matches in the consequent 2017, 2018 and 2019 editions, but they have finished last twice and once on the sixth position.

For a team that’s laden with superstars, RCB’s story has been a cocktail of strategic blunders and management’s distrust in think-tank. When I say think-tank, I mean the coaching staff that keeps altering every season.

The strategic blunders can be a PhD thesis in itself. For starters – emptying pockets in auction for the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Karthik, Tymal Mills, etc.; relying on Corey Anderson as a death bowling option, not thinking of Kohli as a regular opening option. Coming to the last-mentioned point, Kohli averages almost 49 as an opener in IPL. And his runs come at a strike-rate of 140.4. He also has five centuries (second-most by any player) as an opener. In contrast, in other positions, he averages 32. Even at no.3, the average is just over 36. His strike-rate remains unimpressive at those numbers.

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Have RCB fixed their glitches?

Honestly, it was poor planning that cost SRH their first game in 2020. Usually, a side known for their smartness, SRH were cruising at 89 for one in the 12th over, in their chase of 164. Jonny Bairstow and Manish Pandey were set. The only seeming threat was Yuzvendra Chahal. With so much experience in-store, the batters could have seen him off or just rotated the strike. Both departed at crucial junctures in acts of bravado. Chahal would not miss the window of opportunity of getting on top. He got Vijay Shankar too, for a golden duck. SRH’s inexperienced middle-order contributed to the debacle. Kane Williamson’s absence was truly felt. However, picking Mitchell Marsh over Mohammad Nabi made little sense.

Now to the good bits. The coming good of Chahal doesn’t surprises many. That’s been the story for RCB year-after-year. Their pacers have leaked far too many in the recent seasons. While Umesh Yadav remained at his expensive, Dale Steyn tried his bit, but Navdeep Saini emerged as the go-to bowler. Finishing games with pacers was an area RCB struggled with. Saini’s pace and line defeated got the better of Rashid Khan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, men known to be more than handy with the willow.

Like always, AB de Villiers came to the party at a tricky juncture and ensured RCB a competitive total. But again, that’s not a new. What actually was: the IPL debut of the 20-year-old Devdutt Padikkal. The Karnataka youngster now has fifties in his First-Class, List A, T20 and IPL debuts. He set the tone early for RCB with a 42-ball 56. Banking on his Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy 2019-20 form, Padikkal was nabbed by RCB. It was refreshing to see RCB contingent backing a local young talent.

The concern areas

  • Umesh Yadav’s role: Umesh was excellent for RCB in 2018. The next season, he went at almost 10 an over, and neither struck early. Considering his experience, a question-mark hovers around his role.
     
  • Better utilisation of Washington Sundar: Kohli needs to use the off-spinner all-rounder as an attacking option in the Powerplays. If Kohli can crack the code with Sundar as Rohit Sharma did in the Nidahas Trophy 2018, RCB’s bowling will be better placed.
     
  • Josh Philippe’s in middle-order? He’s a top-order batsman. If he has to bat deep down the order, why not draft in Moeen Ali or Chris Morris?
     
  • Virat Kohli’s batting number: Should Kohli open the batting? Statistically, he’s one of the best openers in the tournament. Kohli not opening is like SRH not opening with Warner. Does it make sense? Aaron Finch can either be the back-up opener or be used as a floater in the middle-order to support AB.

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