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The Extensive IPL 2021 Preview | Royal Challengers Bangalore edition ft. New season, rinse, repeat

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Will RCB *finally* lift the IPL title this time around?

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The Extensive IPL 2021 Preview | Royal Challengers Bangalore edition ft. New season, rinse, repeat

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Anirudh Suresh

04/07/2021

Everyone talks about the five stages of grief, but it is that time of the year where it’ll be more pertinent to talk about the six stages of being an RCB fan.

We are less than 48 hours away from the commencement of a new IPL season, which means fans of RCB will currently be in stage one: delusion. This will be followed by more delusion, after which there will be a reality check. The reality check will be succeeded by denial, which will then be followed by anger and age-old-depression. The final stage, of course, is acceptance. 

Now there are some sane people who directly jump the queue and skip straight to the final stage, but, then again, a vast majority believe that a person cannot label themselves an RCB fan until and unless they are willing to go through two months of anguish, a journey that will be kick-started by the words, “Ee saala cup namde.”  We hope that, by the end of this preview, we manage to convince those prepared to go through the grind to skip directly to stage seven, even before the season begins.

What was the story last year?

After winning 7 of their first 10 games, looking certain to finish in the Top 2, RCB capitulated and lost each of their last four group games to finish fourth. They were then knocked out in the Eliminator by Sunrisers Hyderabad

Where exactly do they stand this season?

Batting

RCB made big purchases in the auction 

Historically, batting has been RCB’s strongest suit, but the tables turned last season as it was with the bat that the Reds lost the competition. No one barring AB de Villiers produced consistent, impactful performances and the over-dependence on Mr. 360 eventually caught up with the side. In particular, they struggled to post competitive totals, losing 6 of the 10 games in which they batted first. Their average batting-first score of 153.1 was the second worst in the competition.

The Powerplay| Slow starters in 2020; low ceiling in 2021

RCB’s inability to post big scores last season can be directly tied to their incompetence in the powerplay. Only two teams registered an average powerplay score lower than their 41.93 and they hit just 5.93 boundaries per game in the first six overs, the worst amongst all eight teams. Interestingly, however, their average of 1.06 wkts lost per game in the powerplay was the third best amongst all teams, meaning they were excruciatingly conservative with their approach, simply not taking enough risks.

Made with Flourish

What have RCB done to address the slow starts?

They’ve let go one of the culprits for this slow start, Aaron Finch, but Finch’s form was far from RCB’s only problem up top. If anything, they have compounded their problems by opting to open with Kohli and Padikkal. In IPL 2020, Padikkal had a powerplay SR of just 129.00, while Kohli was amongst the worst batters in the first six overs, striking at a mere 109.5. Kohli, in fact, has been substandard in the powerplay for a long while, as in his last 15 T20Is, he has struck at a snail-ish 112.3 in the first six overs. A better option for RCB would be to open with Finn Allen, a natural aggressor who in his career has struck at 205.6 in the powerplay, or Mohammed Azharuddeen, who in the 2020/21 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy smashed the second fastest hundred in the competition’s history. With Kohli and Padikkal - two natural accumulators - there exists the risk of the team once again failing to take risks and maximizing the field restrictions. 

Middle-overs | Maxwell and Christian provide a ray of hope

If RCB were ‘average’ in the powerplay, they were indescribably bad in the middle-overs. Between overs 7-14 in IPL 2020, their SR of 105.16 was the worst amongst all eight teams and they struck just 3.93 boundaries per game in the phase, a tally which was, again, comfortably the worst. Padikkal and Kohli were the prime culprits for RCB’s slow-going in the middle as while the southpaw struck at just 111 in the middle overs last season, Kohli went even slower at 106.1. It did seem like they consciously adhered to a conservative approach as even de Villiers was only marginally better than Padikkal, striking at 111.5.

Made with Flourish

But to their credit, RCB have taken proactive steps this season to address this issue.

RCB broke the bank for Maxwell and one of the primary reasons for the same was to prevent the team from hibernating in the middle-overs. The Australian has not been an effective commodity in the IPL for years, yes, but in BBL 2021, Maxwell struck at 138.3 SR between overs 7-14, apart from which he has been exceptional in this phase in international cricket, having struck at 137.0 in middle-overs in his last 27 T20Is. Exposing him in this phase will galvanize the batting. But it’s not just Maxwell. Since the start of 2020, RCB’s second Aussie recruit, Dan Christian, has struck at 152.6 in the middle-overs and the club might be looking at the all-rounder as someone who can provide impetus in the middle.

Batting at the death | Strong last season; stronger now

Last season, batting at the death was by and large RCB’s strongest suit. Often they conserved wickets and went berserk in the final five with the set batsmen. Their SR of 161.8 in overs 15-20 was the second best in the competition, and this was rendered possible by the duo of Kohli and de Villiers, who struck at 177.2 and 206.4 respectively. This season, they’ve imported further ammo that could very well take them to the top of the charts. In BBL 10, Maxwell struck at 177.1 in the final five, while this figure raises manifold in international cricket, where, since the start of 2018, he’s struck at 201.9. Even better than Maxwell at the death is Daniel Christian, who in 8 T20s in 2021 has struck at 188.7. His SR at the death in BBL 10 was 193.5 and since the start of 2013, the all-rounder has maintained an astonishing SR of 176.0. 

Barring these two foreign imports, the club will also be hoping for Rajat Patidar and Mohammed Azharuddeen to chip in. Both the uncapped batters made the world take notice through their performances in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and the Vijay Hazare Trophy, and, due to RCB’s feeble Indian batting stocks, have a realistic chance of breaking into the side. While Azharuddeen averaged 46.66 and struck those runs at 133.33 in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, batting at No.6, Patidar pummeled 221 runs in SMAT 2020/21 at 153.47 and struck a 60-ball hundred in the 50-over competition, whilst batting in the middle order.

Verdict

On paper, RCB should fare better with the bat than they did last season. They have gambled to fill holes and undoubtedly have more quality than what they did last time around. That being said, it is hard to not imagine that how their batting fares will completely depend on which Glenn Maxwell turns up. Maxwell’s IPL numbers - which we’ve purposefully concealed - are anything but inspiring, and, in all probability, they will face the same fate as Punjab did last season should the Australian - a vital cog in this new set-up - misfire. But the fact that they will play seven of their 14 games at the Wankhede and Eden Gardens - venues which had average first innings scores of 176.143 and 194 respectively in IPL 2019; the two highest scoring grounds in the country - should help their batsmen flourish.  

Bowling

RCB being carried by bowlers. A man eating a bat leading to 2 million deaths and a global shutdown. 

If you’d asked people two years ago which one of the aforementioned two statements will have a bigger likelihood of coming true, a vast majority would have chosen the second option without thinking twice. That was the amount of faith the general public had in RCB’s bowling. But things turned around in IPL 2020 and how. 

Powerplay | Disciplined last season; Things looking bright this season

The RCB bowlers were not quite kings in the first six overs last season, but, nevertheless, they did quite an exceptional job. The Reds took, on average, 1.33 wkts per game in the first six overs - only the fifth best - but strangled their opponents up-front, maintaining an economy rate of 7.56. This was a tally bettered by only three other teams. They did so using the off-spin of Washington Sundar (6.05) and the pace of Morris (6.27) and Saini (6.94), although one of these three has left the club and the other has seen his career take a nosedive. 

Made with Flourish

Can they maintain the same level without Morris?

Numbers tell that they can. As we know, RCB splashed the cash on Kyle Jamieson, but it should really be the Aussies they should be looking at. While Jamieson, across the last two years, has been on the expensive side in the first six, conceding runs at an ER of 8.06, Kane Richardson and Zampa have been exceptional. Zampa, in non-international T20s since the start of 2020, has an ER of 6.62, while this number drops further for Richardson (6.26). A third Aussie, Daniel Sams, has been near-flawless in powerplay in T20s this year, boasting an ER of 4.42 (This number however rises to 7.70 since the start of 2019). It will, of course, not be feasible to field more than two of these aforementioned names in the same XI, but RCB do have an equally able, if not better, Indian option in the form of Siraj. Last year, Siraj was exceptional in the powerplay, conceding his runs at 6.92, but what makes him stand-out is his strike rate of 11.1, which is significantly better than every other bowler in the squad. RCB have the quality to hurt opponents in the powerplay; how they assemble the side and shuffle the bowlers is what will decide how they fare in this phase. 

Middle-overs | Exceptional in 2020; Intangibles a concern in 2021

When it comes to operating in the middle-overs, RCB, last season, were right up there with the best. On average they took 2 wickets per game in this phase - the second best tally - and gave away only 6.97 runs per over, which was also better than six of the other eight sides. The wrecker in chief in this phase was Yuzvendra Chahal, who took 76% of his 21 wickets in IPL 2020 in overs 7-14. No one bettered this tally and, in addition to this, the leggie also maintained an exceptional ER of 5.69. He was well supported by Sundar, who, with his ER of 5.65, was also a nagging presence for opposition sides. 

Made with Flourish

Can they maintain this prodigious form in IPL 2021?

A lot will depend on Chahal’s form, for the leg-spinner has been off-colour for India of late. In 6 T20Is post IPL 2020, Chahal has taken just 4 wickets in overs 7-14, and has leaked runs at an ER of 8.87. This figure rose to 9.57 in the England series, where he was carted to all parts of the ground. This is perhaps why RCB might ponder regularly playing a bowler who they under-utilized last season, Adam Zampa. Since the start of 2020, Zampa has an ER of 6.74 in T20s, and this figure is still a respectable 7.16 in T20Is. Most importantly, he strikes often, as is evident from his SR of 16.5 in all T20s since the start of last year.  Thus, even should Chahal not fire, a Zampa-Sundar partnership could hurt sides in the middle overs.

But how RCB will fare in the middle-overs will extend beyond just the personnel. For the venues might have a bearing on how successful their slower bowlers are. In IPL 2020, the RCB spinners accounted for 45% of all wickets the club took, despite only bowling 44.6% of the total overs. This was largely down to the fact that all three venues across UAE provided equal assistance for spin bowling. However, that will not be the case come IPL 2021.

RCB will play their first three group matches in the spin-friendly Chepauk, where spinners took 58.42% of the wickets in IPL 2019, but will then move to parts of the country which do not really assist spin. 11 of RCB’s 14 matches will be played in Mumbai, Kolkata and Ahmedabad and, across the last two years, all  these three cities have seen spinners account for less than 40% of the wickets. RCB will, in fact, play 29% of their group games in Ahmedabad where, in the recently concluded India-England series, spinners struggled, accounting for just 26% of all wickets to fall. Thus while it goes unsaid that their spinners will have to be on point come the new season, there is a good chance that their biggest weapon could get nullified due to the conditions and the nature of the wickets.

Death overs | Uncharacteristically good last year; A ticking time bomb this year 

Surprisingly, RCB fared pretty well at the death last season - their ER of 9.95 was the fifth best in the competition, but only 0.28 worse off than the second-placed KKR. But these numbers were largely down to the brilliance of one man, Chris Morris, who not only had an average better than any other bowler that sent a minimum of 12 overs in the final five but was incredibly parsimonious, maintaining an ER of 7.83. Remove Morris’ contribution and RCB’s numbers at the death in IPL 2020 look bleak: the rest of the pack leaked runs at a rate of 10.42.

Why IPL 2021 could bring back ghosts of the past

RCB, historically, have been notorious for their abominable display at the death and it is not beyond any stretch of imagination that IPL 2021 could see the return of the RCB of (bad) old times. The team’s best bet in the final five is Kane Richardson, but even he has been on the expensive side - an ER of 9.66 at the death since 2019 in T20s, which rose up to 10 in the recently-concluded New Zealand series. Million-dollar-baby Kyle Jamieson, in his T20 career (non-internationals) has an ER of 9.22 in overs 15-20, but in T20Is this number shoots up to 13.05. In all T20s thus far this year, Jamieson has leaked an average of 14.66 runs per over at the death (88 off 6 overs). Saini (9.36), Siraj (11.25) and Chahal (9.7) all were ordinary in the final phase last season, while Dan Christian, at the death, has an ER of 10.22 in his last 28 innings, a figure that increases to 11.37 in 12 matches this year. The worst of the lot, however, is Daniel Sams, who in almost 65 overs at the death in his career, has maintained an ER of 10.58. 

Verdict

The RCB bowlers over-delivered last season, but with their attack missing a spearhead and reeking of IPL inexperience, it is hard to imagine them enjoying the same success they did last season. The conditions, too, unlike last season, will be stacked against them, and one imagines it will need something out of the ordinary for the RCB bowlers to compete with the rest of the pack. 

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