23rd April, 2013, the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) are set to clash with the Pune Warriors India. RCB have a star-studded line-up at their disposal – something that can’t be said about the Warriors. Yet, with this being the IPL, there is hope that this fixture could be keenly contested.
Chris Gayle, though, has other ideas. He bludgeons 175* off 66 balls (yes, you read that right) and smashes the Warriors into submission. By the time he is done, you can almost visualize the bowlers pleading for him to stop, only for him to sport a sheepish grin and clatter the next delivery into oblivion. This score, by the way, is also the highest IPL team total ever scored in the IPL.
Cut to four years later at Eden Gardens against the Kolkata Knight Riders. RCB still have a galaxy of stars at their disposal and have also restricted KKR to 131 – a target well within reach of the likes of AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli and Gayle. They also have Kedar Jadhav and Stuart Binny in the mix – proven domestic performers who are waiting to make their mark in international cricket.
What follows, though, is something the RCB faithful wouldn’t have envisioned even in their worst nightmares. Kohli’s troops get shot out for 49 and record the lowest ever team score in the IPL – on the same date when Gayle had blazed away to 175* all by himself. Just a season ago, they’d reached the final too, meaning that this wasn’t a depleted RCB side. But they still plummeted to a nadir no one thought was possible.
And now to the final bit of RCB’s three-act batting play. 23rd April 2022, against the Sunrisers Hyderabad. This time, too, RCB have a strong squad and seem primed to qualify for the play-offs. They’ve won five of their first seven games and sit well above Chennai Super Kings and the Mumbai Indians – long considered their biggest rivals, at least by their fans.
SRH haven’t fared too badly either. They’ve won four out of six matches and are looking the coherent unit they weren’t in 2021. Yet, this seems RCB’s game to lose, considering how they were finding ways to win even when not at their best.
RCB lose the toss, however, and that, unlike what has happened in the previous two games, signals impending doom. Over the next hour, their batters, including Glenn Maxwell, Faf du Plessis and Kohli hop like cats on hot tin roofs. Du Plessis sees his off-stump cartwheel and thud onto the turf. Maxwell is defeated by the extra bounce and only manages a tame chip to mid-off. And Kohli, well, let’s say he has gotten out in this manner in the slip cordon before.
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RCB's top order has struggled in IPL 2022
From a 2022 standpoint, this, despite their success, is an eerily familiar script. In 8 matches this season, they’ve mustered three fifty-run opening stands. In the remaining games, though, they’ve not even crossed 15. Anuj Rawat, who was touted to be the next big thing by RCB, has scored 129 runs at an average of 16.13 and a strike rate of 109.32. du Plessis has had a couple of impactful knocks (against Lucknow Super Giants and Punjab Kings) but hasn’t contributed much apart from it.
Kohli, meanwhile, has hit a submerged log, scoring 119 runs in eight essays at an average of 17. This includes an unbeaten knock too, meaning that the average is slightly skewed. The strike rate (122.68) isn’t great either. What is more worrying, though, is how often all three or at least two of their top three have malfunctioned, leaving Maxwell and the irresistible Dinesh Karthik to perform resurrection acts.
RCB’s first two wickets have combined for more than 20 only twice this season – against the Mumbai Indians (probably the worst bowling attack in the IPL) and the Punjab Kings (a line-up giving MI tough competition on that front). Against top-quality attacks, such as the Delhi Capitals, KKR, LSG and SRH, they’ve slipped to 13/2, 17/2, 7/2 and 5/2, respectively.
On at least two of these occasions, Karthik has stood up to be counted. He repaired the essay against DC before applying the finishing touches. Against KKR, he was confident enough in his abilities to drag them across the finishing line in a tight game. So far, Karthik hasn’t flinched. He has only failed once but when that happened (against SRH), RCB fell like a pack of cards.
RCB’s issue, unlike past seasons, doesn’t seem to revolve around personnel. Kohli and Rawat are enduring wretched runs of form but they don’t really have an alternative. The former Indian captain’s lack of runs, in particular, have been a problem since 2021 but that is a conversation for another day.
One thing RCB can try doing is shake up their batting order, considering how well Shahbaz Ahmed has batted under pressure. He seems to have the requisite technique to hold his own against the new ball, and it could be something they contemplate. Not just because it will allow Maxwell more freedom in the middle to weave his magic, but also because it could help RCB avoid collapses, and protect their best players.
The easier solution, though, would be for du Plessis, Kohli and Rawat to start scoring runs consistently. But cricket isn’t that straightforward and breaking out of such ruts can be as tedious as anything in the sport. However, they must also remember that this misfiring top order has the potential to undermine everything good they do elsewhere.
At the moment, their bowling unit is firing on all cylinders, and they are finding new heroes every time they bowl. Their fielding has also been up to scratch and their middle and lower order has developed a happy knack of rescuing the side from perilous situations.
Yet, as long as the top three doesn’t score the adequate number of runs, they will only be playing catch-up. They have been pretty decent at it so far – five wins in eight matches isn’t a bad tally at all. They are capable of a lot more, though. And that is probably what might cause a furrowed brow or two.
In many ways, it’s like picking the only component that isn’t working in a relatively well-oiled machine. But those attuned to mechanical jargon would testify that it often takes a solitary moving part to bring the juggernaut to a grinding halt. It has perhaps not reached that stage yet. If displays such as the one against SRH become the norm, though, it could potentially be problematic.
That it happened on 23rd April – a day when RCB have alternated between their highest crests and their lowest troughs, only adds to the theatre and illustrates how volatile this batting unit has historically been, and how that tack hasn’t quite changed in 2022.