Ee sala cup nammde (This time, the cup is ours) was the catchphrase among Royal Challengers Bangalore supporters last year. But, like every IPL season, they were disappointed yet again as RCB finished sixth in the league, winning only six games and failing to advance to the play-offs.
The franchise rung in the changes, parting ways with head coach Daniel Vettori, batting and fielding coach Trent Woodhill and bowling coach Andrew McDonald. Gary Kirsten and Ashish Nehra (who was previously mentor) took over as coaches as RCB set about assembling a new-look squad. As many as nine players, including Brendon McCullum, Corey Anderson and Chris Woakes, were released while Quinton de Kock was sold to Mumbai Indians. Mandeep Singh was traded to Kings XI Punjab in exchange for Marcus Stoinis. Then, at the auction, RCB bought nine players, including Shimron Hetmyer and Shivam Dube.
RCB has never lacked star value. What the team has often missed, though, is balance. Last year, it took Virat Kohli and the team management a long time to settle on their best XI, replacing the out-of-form de Kock with Parthiv Patel, and finding a place in the side for Moeen Ali’s all-round talent. Tim Southee joined the squad late but ought to have featured in more than the eight games he got. Buying Anderson — he had hardly played any cricket for a year in the lead-up to the IPL — was an error, as his performances made amply clear.
The team was overly reliant on Kohli (530) and A. B. de Villiers (480) for the runs, with the batting lacking depth. Only one other player — Mandeep Singh (252) — even breached the 250-run mark for the season. Death bowling was a weakness. The campaign was an unmitigated disaster.<EP>This time, the RCB squad is an impressive one on paper. Stoinis was in great form in the BBL, while Hetmyer increasingly looks like the most talented batsman to have emerged from the Caribbean since Brian Lara.
Dube triggered a bidding war at the auction after gaining the country’s attention with his big hitting in the Ranji Trophy while Akshdeep Nath, according to those involved in Uttar Pradesh cricket, is a fine, young all-rounder; both should add depth to the batting. But scratching beneath the surface throws up a lot of questions. Dube is currently not fit, and was not part of the Mumbai squad for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. He last played a competitive game on January 7, and is yet to feature in the IPL. Nath has played only six IPL games in his entire career, and played only one match last year for Kings XI Punjab. How will RCB accommodate Hetmyer as one of the four overseas players with de Villiers, Ali, Stoinis, Southee and Nathan Coulter-Nile also in the squad? If one of the overseas bowlers is omitted, that will place a great responsibility on the domestic bunch. Umesh Yadav, who was RCB’s leading wicket-taker last season (20), and Yuzvendra Chahal should feature prominently but neither of them can bowl in the death overs.
Then, with the World Cup around the corner, the availability of overseas internationals will be an issue. There are a lot of questions for Kohli and the team management to ponder over. And there are no simple answers.
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