Middle-orders in focus as desperate RCB takes on KKR

Having endured a poor start to the Indian Premier League season, Royal Challengers Bangalore will look to get back to winning ways when it hosts Kolkata Knight Riders on Sunday.

AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli, who have been Royal Challenger Bangalore's batting backbone so far, will be eager to fire against Kolkata Knight Riders on Sunday.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Two wins in six games. An in-form captain. An off-colour middle order. The Royal Challengers Bangalore, currently No. 7 in the Indian Premier League points table, will look to put the demoralising defeat against Chennai Super Kings behind it when it takes on Kolkata Knight Riders at the M. Chinnaswamy stadium on Sunday.

RCB will need to begin by addressing its bowling woes. Against CSK, Yuzvendra Chahal (2 for 26) and Umesh Yadav (one for 23) fared well but couldn't prevent the visitor from chasing down an otherwise intimidating total of 205. Chahal and Yadav - the two best bowlers of the night - were bowled out before the death overs, thereby exposing a rather inexperienced attack to two of world cricket's most explosive finishers in Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Dwayne Bravo.

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Colin de Grandhomme didn't bowl, while Washington Sundar and Mohammed Siraj bled runs at economy rates of 14 and 12 respectively. The depth of RCB's bowling woes can be gauged from its economy rate of 13.29 at the death; the worst by any team in any edition of the IPL. 

The spin duo of Chahal and Sundar too has been largely ineffective, snapping up only 11 wickets for 346 runs while the pace department - despite Umesh Yadav showing sparks of brilliance - has lacked the sting. Corey Anderson, who finished with figures of 3.4-0-58-0 in the last game, could make way for fellow Kiwi pacer Tim Southee, who's yet to play a match this year.

As for its batting, AB de Villiers had the T20 tempo against Delhi Daredevils and Chennai Super Kings that became a mauling. Virat Kohli scored a nifty 82 against Mumbai Indians. The rest - Brendon McCullum, Quinton de Kock (save for the innings against CSK), Manan Vohra and Anderson - have failed to take off so far. 




For all its acquisitions at the auction this year - domestic bowlers, multi-skilled overseas players and specialist wicket-keepers - RCB continues to depend on Kohli (249 runs at 49.80) and de Villiers (280 at 56), who have been its batting backbone. And their dismissal has - at times - exposed the top six's struggle to stand up to major pressure.  

RCB made a sound tactical move by sending Kohli at No. 3 against Delhi Daredevils. However, the right-hander opened in the last game against CSK. Against KKR, the home side could consider opening with Sundar. The Tamil Nadu spinner restated his batting credentials for Albert Tuti Patriots in TNPL last year, scoring 459 runs from nine matches at 154.54. This will help redress the balance between the top and the middle order, with Kohli playing one drop, de Villiers two drop and a Mandeep Singh or Vohra - otherwise used as openers - coming at No. 6. 

Either Anderson or his Kiwi team-mate de Grandhomme can occupy the No. 5 spot. Anderson was promoted up the order against CSK but failed to make an impression, getting out for two off eight deliveries. Mandeep Singh, on the other hand - pushed down the order - played a 17-ball cameo to power the host over the 200-run mark.

KKR's middle-order masterclass

Conversely, KKR's middle-order masterclass has catalysed its fortunes under new skipper Dinesh Karthik. In Robin Uthappa, Nitish Rana, Karthik and Andre Russell, it has a heady mix of caution and aggression.

The 24-year-old Rana has been a revelation this season, his 173 runs at 134.10 twice earning him the Man-of-the-Match award - once against Delhi another against Rajasthan. Rana's part-time off-spin nipped out de Villiers and Kohli off successive deliveries the last time the two sides met at the Eden Gardens and one can expect him to roll his arm against RCB's batting linchpins.

KKR will be relieved as star all-rounder Andre Russell returned to usual business with a quick-fire 44 off 30 balls against Delhi on Friday night. Russell had gone off the field clutching his right thigh after bowling just 11 deliveries against Kings XI but is expected to be fit and raring to go on Sunday. 

Meagre pace options are the only weakness for a otherwise dangerous-looking KKR. Mitchell Johnson and young Shivam Mavi went for plenty against Delhi. While Tom Curran could replace Johnson, Vinay Kumar - given his familiarity with the conditions in Bengaluru - could get a look in.

The Dinesh Karthik-led side, though missing its key pacers to injury, has made excellent use of the resources at its disposal. Sunil Narine, Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla have a total 20 wickets for a combined economy rate of just under eight (7.99).

The weekend contest between the two teams could ultimately boil down to the contrasting middle orders and how they perform in between overs 8 and 15. Needless to say, the crowd is guaranteed another cracker of a contest.

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