The Promise and the Heartbreak That Was the RCB Campaign.
Strong on paper but not on the field
Packing your team with modern-day batting superstars is surely not the recipe of a title-winning team. Royal Challengers Bangalore exemplify this fact better than any other team in the IPL arena. Another IPL season has gone by and they are still struggling to thwart off the tag of ‘glamourous non-winners of IPL'.
The failure to make it to the playoffs this season is particularly agonizing because of the fact that they had assembled their best-ever side in IPL in the mega-auctions earlier this year. Even their captain, Virat Kohli was buoyed by their team management’s performance at the auctions where they seemed to tick nearly all the boxes required to make up an all-round side.
“I think it is a great balance of spinners, fast bowlers, couple of all-rounders, spinning all-rounders, fast bowling all-rounders. Obviously, the batting has been a strong point for RCB over the years. But, I think the bowling department and strengthening of it has been a massive boost for us from this auction. Pretty optimistic about our chances heading into the IPL,” said Kohli.
The team definitely looked quite strong on paper with Kohli, AB de Villiers, Brendon McCullum and Quinton de Kock handling the batting duties while the likes of Tim Southee, Chris Woakes, Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Siraj gave a settled look to the pace bowling department which had long been the Achilles heel for the Bangalore franchise. Moeen Ali, Colin de Grandhome, and Corey Anderson formed a solid all-round core supported by quality spinners like Yuzvendra Chahal, Washington Sundar, Pawan Negi and Murugan Ashwin.
With such quality names in their ranks, only a sub-potential performance on the field could have distanced them from a playoff berth and that exactly is what transpired in the field. The Bangalore campaign this year has been a tale of two contrasting halves. While the bowlers failed miserably in the first half, it was their superstar batting that let them down in the second half. Let’s take a look at how they performed in the two halves.
First Seven Games
The first seven games of this campaign gave an impression that nothing has changed in the Bangalore setup. It seemed they are still primarily a batting side and bowling, especially the death bowling, remained their weakest link which was exploited by the opposition teams as and when they liked. Their bowlers conceded more than 170 runs on six occasions in the first seven games, three of which ended up in 200-plus scores, and the Royal Challengers ended up on the losing side in five of those six occasions. Their bowling shone in only one match against Kings XI Punjab where they restricted them to 155 runs and won the match by four wickets. Their death bowling was particularly woeful as they conceded more than 70 runs in last five overs on four occasions, three of which led to their defeats.
Though their batting, as a whole, cuts out a good picture with seven fifty-plus scores being struck in the first seven games by their batsmen, they suffered from various combination conundrums right from the top of their batting order till the no. 7 all-rounder slot. Their explosive opening pair of McCullum and de Kock never really got going as they registered only a solitary fifty-plus opening partnership and that too came in a losing cause against the Knight Riders. Overall, they tried three different opening pairs who collectively managed only two scores of 40 or greater.
The failure of openers resulted in the extra-pressure on Kohli and de Villers who didn’t disappoint and struck three fifties each but the other batsmen in the middle-order couldn’t support their efforts which led to five losses for Bangalore in the first half.
Last Seven Games
While the bowling was a big let-down for Bangalore in the first half of their campaign, they stepped up big time in the latter half only to be disappointed by consistent underwhelming performances by their batting mates. The bowlers conceded more than 170 runs on only two occasions, a stark improvement from six occasions in the first half, and even those two matches ended in a win for the team. The biggest credit for this improvement should go to a relentless Umesh Yadav who bowled his heart out and went on to register a tally of 20 wickets from 14 games. The bowling unit coordinated and supported each other very well in the second half which resulted in them being able to successfully restrict the opposition teams.
Bangalore’s strong batting unit failed to rise up when it mattered the most as they failed to get past the 150-run mark on three occasions and ended up on the losing side in all three matches which dealt the final nail in their coffin. Their batsmen scored only six fifties in the second half, four of which came in only the two games against Delhi and Hyderabad. There were three matches when none of their batsmen reached the half-century mark which is a big deterioration as they only failed once in scoring a fifty in the first half. Their opening conundrum continued as they tried four different combinations upfront who collectively managed a single 40-plus score.
The biggest batting disappointment was their captain Kohli who could score only a solitary half-century in the second leg of the competition and was particularly vulnerable against spinners who got him eight times out of his eleven dismissals in the tournament, five of which came in the second half of the tournament. The Royal Challengers needed to win at least five of their last seven games but poor batting performances meant that they could only muster four wins and as a result got knocked out of the competition.
Though Kohli and de Villiers feature on the list of spectacular catches of the season, Bangalore, overall, cut a sorry picture when it came to taking catches with a catch success ratio of 73.10%, which is the joint lowest alongside Sunrisers Hyderabad and Rajasthan Royals. They regularly missed the run-out chances and generously offered extra runs of their miss-fields which led to their defeats even from positions where they had to defend 45 runs in the last three overs.
Royal Challengers Bangalore promised, as they always do, a lot more than the sixth spot finish that they managed in the end but, like always, they had their grey areas which kept them off from a final four finish. At times, their players thrived individually with almost no support from other players which doesn’t bode well with a team’s chances of success in a grueling and cut-throat competition like IPL. The skipper Kohli, too, acknowledged the individual contributions and stressed the importance of a good support cast. While speaking in the post-match interview after the last league game against Rajasthan, he expressed his optimism about his team coming good in the next season as they had plenty of positives to take from this one.
“We need to be smarter with composing our team. The responsibility cannot be taken up only by AB all the time. He certainly scored runs, but others need to contribute around him, and didn't show enough composure. There were some new players who did well. Umesh bowled extremely well with the new ball, Chahal was great, Siraj and Moeen contributed too, so plenty of positives to take into the next season.”