After nine long years—a period denoted by spectacular underachieving and comical imploding—Royal Challengers Bangalore are on the brink of qualifying for the playoffs this season. Barring the oddest string of outcomes, they would progress as the second-place side.
Behind their resurgence has been a horde of factors, from a more balanced squad to a less combustible approach and the blossoming of fine young individuals to a sense of collectivism that has seldom dwelled on them. Recapturing their smooth journey and the driving forces behind it.
The perfect juggle
Striking the perfect balance can be a tedious process in this format, the level of fluctuations more unpredictable than the wanton spurt of a stock-market bull. RCB of the past five years could be a case study on disproportionate stock-hoarding—a skewed overseas-domestic players ratio, formidable top-order and flimsy middle-order, the uneven spread of quality hands, crew of one-dimensional bowlers, underperforming all-rounders, and too much tinkering to name but a few evident shortcomings.
This time, though, they finalised their nucleus quite early on in the series, didn’t overly tamper with the core and stuck with it for a chunk of their first 12 games.
There was better clarity in picking a condition-specific team. Like on pitches with a hint of moisture, Mohammed Siraj was picked to harness the swing on offer.
On drier surfaces, an extra spinner was included. There was better discretion in knowing when best to introduce a batsman or deploy a bowler. For instance, not in every match was Washington Sundar thrown the new ball. In short, the resources and manpower were used wisely and prudently.
Arguably RCB’s most versatile bowling firm ever. There is the swing of Siraj, the left-arm trickery of Isuru Udana, the thrift of Washington Sundar, the guiles of Chahal, the slippery pace of Navdeep Saini and the smarts of Morris.
While playing away from their home ground, Chinnaswamy Stadium, with its short boundaries and batting-friendly decks, has benefitted, their bowlers have dramatically improved as well.
Sundar, for example, was erratic in the last edition, leaking 8.22 runs an over. This time around, he has whittled it down to an incredible 5.65.
Morris (6.21), Chahal (7.23), and Navdeep Saini (7.95) have all kept the economy rate below 8. There are as many four RCB bowlers in the top 20 of dot-ball accumulators. No team is more well-represented.
And only Jofra Archer (one every 1.93 ball) has a better frequency of dot-ball than Morris (one every 1.95 balls). At the same time, they have not let the pursuit of leaking runs compromise their hunt for wicket—in two fewer games, Chahal has already matched last year’s tally of 18 wickets, unfailingly producing a wicket in his first-over, Morris has nabbed 11 at an average of 15.
The rest of them have rallied around them and plugged away with wickets at crucial moments of the game.
Beyond Kohli and AB
Over-reliance on Kohli and AB de Villiers has been a recurrent theme for RCB. The reliance on the vaunted pair has not changed, but it’s not excess as it had been in the last few years.
Kohli is still their most prolific run-getter and de Villiers has been rocket-fuelling their innings down the order. But the emergence of Devdutt Padikkal has reduced the burden from the shoulders of Kohli and de Villiers.
The 20-year-old has plundered 417 runs, of which 244 have come in the power-play, the second-most after KL Rahul, and has the best strike rate in the first six overs (133), thus consistently providing racy starts for his side. He has not only glossed over the scratchy returns of his opening partner Aaron Finch, but also facilitated de Villiers to bat down the order and finish the games.
So that the batting line-up is not top-heavy like it had been in the last four years, and there is an even distribution of menace.
Besides, he and Finch have averaged 39 in 11 games, which meant more breathing space for Kohli at No 3.
Likewise, the addition of Chris Morris has shored up their death-bowling as well as death-over hitting. Now there are more heroes than two amidst them, different protagonists who could win them games on their day.
Judicious use of resources
Kohli has judiciously used his bowlers too, weaving in the circumstance of the match and the nature of the batsman. He can summon anyone of Saini, Siraj, Morris or Sundar to pick the new ball.
Likewise, he can introduce any one of Sundar, Morris, Udana, or Saini to bowl at the death. If one of the main bowlers endures an off, Kohli could rely on Shivam Dube’s medium pace or Gurkeerat Singh Mann’s off-spin.
The flexibility of the bowling makes it difficult for batsmen to plan against them. There is sufficient depth too—the likes of Adam Zampa, Moeen Ali, Dale Steyn and Umesh Yadav have been mostly bench-warmers.
It also implies that utility has preceded reputation in picking teams. Kohli has not shirked from ringing in the changes, even it meant replacing an under-firing big gun. Steyn was listless in his first couple of games, so Kohli benched him for the next 9 games.