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Big names are undoubtedly assuring, but are they enough for a team to sail through? No, and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) have learned this the hard way.
Despite reaching the finals thrice (2009, 2011, and 2016), RCB are yet to get their hands on the IPL silverware. To make matters worse, the team has finished at the bottom of the table twice in the past three years.
And so, for the upcoming edition, the franchise has left no stone unturned to overcome some of its perennial shortcomings.
While retaining their core group, RCB have made some quality overseas acquisitions in Chris Morris, Dale Steyn, Adam Zampa, Isuru Udana, and Joshua Phillipe.
Besides, the support staff has also changed. Former New Zealand coach Mike Hesson has joined them as Director of Cricket while former Australia cricketer Simon Katich will serve as their new head coach.
2020 hasn’t been kind to many, but can be it be RCB’s year? Let’s delve into their strengths and weaknesses to find out the same.
As always, RCB have an explosive top-order at their disposal. They are likely to go with Aaron Finch, Devdutt Paddikal, Virat Kohli, and AB De Villiers in the top-four.
Finch can take the load off the Kohli-de Villiers duo if he fires, besides assisting Kohli in taking crucial decisions on the field.
Australia’s white-ball skipper has valuable match practice under his belt, thanks to the recently concluded limited-overs series against England.
Finch was the leading run-getter for his side in the T20Is with 125 runs, but could only average 33.66 in the following ODI series. Still, he was striking the ball cleanly.
Who will walk out as Finch’s opening partner? Well, Parthiv Patel and Paddikal are serious contenders for that slot. Powerplay restrictions suit Parthiv’s style of batting and consequently, he gets the license to launch right from the get-go.
Last season, he struck 373 runs at an average of 26.64 and was RCB’s third-highest run-getter (behind Kohli and ABD). Then, he’s also been RCB’s first-choice wicket-keeper for years.
However, should de Villiers don the wicketkeeping gloves, they may well turn to Paddikal. The Karnataka southpaw was in sublime touch during the 2019-20 domestic season and finished as the leading run-getter in both the Vijay Hazare and Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament.
The next two slots are fixed for Kohli and de Villiers – two of the best all-format batsmen the game has ever seen. As one of the busiest cricketers in the world, Kohli has always been vocal about workload management. The coronavirus-enforced break could come as a blessing in disguise for the skipper, who will be fully refreshed and ready to go.
Well-rounded spin attack
To get the best out of sluggish tracks in the UAE, RCB have one of the best spin attacks in the tournament. Once again, Yuzvendra Chahal will lead the spin attack, but the management will be spoilt for choice with the likes of Zampa, Moeen Ali, Washington Sundar, Pawan Negi, and Gurkeerat Mann in their ranks.
With 10 wickets to his name in the ODI series against England, Zampa finished as the leading wicket-taker for Australia. However, with Chahal certain to start, the team might not play two leggies together. Also, the side faces a problem of plenty concerning the four overseas slots.
That said, all-rounders Moeen Ali and Washington Sundar are likely to start, given the balance they lend to the squad.
In the T20I series against Australia, Ali did not give any returns with the ball and could only manage 38 runs. However, his importance as a T20I package cannot be understated.
Sundar only played three matches last season but is expected to be given a longer go this time, given that he has emerged wicket-taking bowler for India in T20Is.
Death bowling…. Still a concern?
At the auction table, RCB had a fierce bidding war with KKR over Pat Cummins, a world-class pacer. Cummins was eventually bought by KKR for a whopping Rs 15.5 crore.
The franchise still had to plug their biggest hole, that of death bowling, and so, they brought in Morris, Steyn, and Udana. Their core Indian bowling remains the same with Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, and Mohammad Siraj.
No doubt, Morris packs a punch in the middle order, but in 2019 and 2018, the South African conceded 9.27 and 10.21 runs per over. He has assumed the role of a death bowler and batted at No 5 for Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash League (BBL) 2019-20. Hence, he is not new to these expectations and his variations too could come in handy on the slow and low tracks of UAE.
Steyn, the aging South African warhorse, has battled a few injuries in the past two editions. Knowing the same, Kohli might want to save him for crucial contests. Besides, young Indian pacers have a chance to pick his brains
Yadav has been one of the costliest bowlers at the death, and so has Siraj. Last season, the two were taken for 9.80 and 9.55 runs per over respectively.
The only Indian pacer to watch out for is Saini, who has proved his credentials at the international level since the last IPL. Not only is he menacingly fast, but he also has a good bouncer and yorker in his arsenal. Kohli would bank on him to ease the team’s nerves at the death.
Stiff competition for four overseas slots
In some instances, healthy competition fuels good individual performances. In RCB’s case, however, the think tank is expected to have a tough time in fielding four overseas players.
Finch and de Villiers are sure starters which means that the next two slots should be occupied by the bowlers.
Getting Phillipe, who ended this year’s BBL as the third-highest run-getter, at his base price of Rs 20 lakh was a good deal for RCB. But he doesn’t seem to fit anywhere in the squad.
Udana can provide the team with a left-arm angle and bowl good cutters. His batting is an added plus, but they would prefer having Ali’s off-spin and explosiveness in the middle order.
They have Zampa as an option too, but the remaining slot would be occupied by a death bowler i.e. Steyn or Morris. Ideally, RCB would have wanted both of them to bolster their pace attack. However, given UAE conditions, they would have to narrow it down to one overseas pacer, which would most probably be Morris given his all-round ability.
All in all, death bowling remains a concern but as pointed by Kohli, RCB have a balanced line-up. If IPL’s Men in Red can execute their plans well and avoid tactical blunders on the field, making it to the knockouts should not be a problem for them.
Likely XI: Aaron Finch, Devdutt Padikkal/Parthiv Patel, Virat Kohli (c), AB de Villiers, Moeen Ali, Shivam Dube, Chris Morris, Washington Sundar, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Yuzvendra Chahal.