IPL 2015: A more balanced RCB brings hope for next season
Coming into this edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the hope among supporters of the Royal Challengers Bangalore would have been that they would finally shed the tag of underachievers. Despite being blessed with an array of talent over the previous 7 seasons, the fact that they had not won a single title was a massive disservice to the ability at their disposal.
This season, however, despite once again failing in their quest to win the elusive trophy, they should look back at their campaign with a feeling of contentment. After all, they just fell agonizingly short of reaching their third IPL final after not even having qualified for the playoffs for each of the past three seasons.
The credit for their season will inevitably go to star players like Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Mitchell Starc, all of whom rightly justified their billing as being among the best players in the world today. While there is no doubt that those players did a bulk of the work, the contribution of some of the young Indian players should be their biggest takeaway going forward.
Whether it was Mandeep Singh’s 45 off 18 balls against KKR in a rain-shortened game or Sarfaraz Khan’s cheeky 21-ball 45 against RR, the youngsters duly stepped up to the plate and provided some solidity to an otherwise fragile looking lower middle-order.
Mandeep, in particular, seemed to thrive on the responsibility placed on him of having to shepherd the middle-order. A case in point is the eliminator against the Royals, when they were tottering at 46/2. The former Kings XI Punjab batsman came up with a brilliant 54 off 34 balls to help RCB post a total of 180 for 4 from their 20 overs and secure a 71-run victory. His batting partner for much of that innings, AB de Villiers, was so impressed by the youngster’s efforts that he decided to give him his man of the match award despite hitting 66 off 38 balls himself.
With the ball, both Yuzvendra Chahal and Harshal Patel proved their worth as they took 23 and 17 wickets, respectively, to finish in the top 3 wicket-takers for the franchise and helped ease the burden of expectations on Starc.
The injury to New Zealand pacer Adam Milne, which resulted in Sreenath Aravind coming in as a replacement, turned out to be a blessing in disguise with the Karnataka left-armer accounting for 8 scalps from the 5 matches that he played.
Another key issue in previous seasons in terms of the balance of their side was the overseas all-rounder spot. They tried the likes of Albie Morkel and Daniel Christian, but none of them had the desired impact. It looked like the problem would persist this season, too, with West Indies T20 captain Darren Sammy having a lukewarm start to the tournament. The RCB management, however, took the bold step of dropping Sammy after two games in favour of the largely unproven David Wiese.
With the benefit of hindsight, the decision was the correct one as Wiese ended the tournament with 122 runs and 16 wickets. While he always had a reputation for being a fearsome hitter of the cricket ball, his bowling was an absolute revelation as he bowled some instrumental spells and proved to be a reliable option for his skipper.
Having bought Dinesh Karthik for a whopping Rs 10.5 crore, the franchise was right in expecting greater returns from the wicketkeeper-batsman than 141 runs at an average of 12.81 with a highest score of 28. With a relatively weak Indian batting contingent at their disposal, with the obvious exception of Kohli, Karthik was roped in to provide solidity to the middle order and allow the top three the freedom to play their natural game. However, his struggles with the bat dissuaded the top three from doing so as early inroads often proved fatal for the side.
The bowling, meanwhile, has been a perennial source of weakness for RCB over the years. While there was a massive improvement on that front this year, it was largely due to the brilliance of one man: Mitchell Starc. Yes, he was there last season too but he has come on by leaps and bounds since then and is arguably the best limited-overs bowler in world cricket today.
When he was missing at the start of the season, the RCB bowling still looked toothless and the side lost two out of their first three games. It was no coincidence that Starc’s return saw a sea change in their fortunes with the Bangalore outfit going on a run of 7 wins from their next 11 games, two of which were a no-result due to rain.
Looking ahead to next year, if they can bring in a bit more depth and variety to their bowling unit, they would certainly become a far greater force to reckon with.
What to expect in 2016?
Unlike some of the other sides in the IPL, RCB are a fairly young outfit with massive potential for improvement. Also, the experience of reaching the playoffs this time around should hold them in good stead if they find themselves in a similar situation next year.
The one area of concern, as alluded to earlier, is their unhealthy overdependence on their big guns. If they can address that issue adequately, especially with a captain in Kohli, whose inclination to play an attacking brand of cricket and back his young players is working wonders, 2016 could finally be the year when they fulfill their potential.