After a fairly good start to the 2020 Indian Premier League (IPL) campaign, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) skipper Virat Kohli and his teammates spoke of “good vibes” taking over the dressing room. This was the year that RCB would break its jinx and win a maiden IPL Trophy, the players believed.
It was not to be. The side did make it the playoffs — for the first time since 2016 — but exited in the Eliminator after losing to Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Once again, RCB paid the price for depending much too heavily on star batsmen Kohli and A. B. de Villiers. With little support from the middle and lower order, Kohli chose to curb his naturally aggressive style, going at a dormant tournament strike rate of 121.35. The likes of Aaron Finch, Shivam Dube and Chris Morris failed to deliver with the bat, leaving de Villiers and Kohli with too much on their plates.
On the bowling front, Dale Steyn was nowhere close to his old menacing self, while Morris missed the first few fixtures due to an injury. An unimpressive Umesh Yadav was dropped after just two games.
At the IPL 2021 player auction, RCB did not sufficiently address these concerns. To boost the middle and lower order, the team’s only notable signing was Australian Glenn Maxwell. The other batsmen and all-rounders — Dan Christian, Sachin Baby, Rajat Patidar and Suyash Prabhudessai — do not count as proven match-winners. Even Maxwell, signed for ₹14.25 crore, has been inconsistent in the previous few IPL seasons.
RCB also signed two uncapped wicketkeeper-batsmen in Mohammed Azharuddeen and K. S. Bharat. While Azharuddeen showed his hitting power with a 37-ball century for Kerala in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy, Bharat is known to be a dependable first-class cricketer. It remains to be seen how they handle the pressure of playing on the big stage.
RCB faces another concern — at the top of the order. Having released underperforming opener Finch, the side needed a replacement to partner the impressive Devdutt Padikkal. That role was expected to be taken by Josh Philippe, but the Australian wicketkeeper-batsman recently withdrew from the tournament citing personal reasons. Philippe was replaced by New Zealand cricketer Finn Allen, an inexperienced but talented hitter. RCB will likely go with Kohli as an opener — a move that the India captain himself suggested at the end of the T20 International series against England. If Kohli does indeed move up to an unfamiliar opening position, it only increases the pressure on the weak middle order. The tactic could turn out to be a hit-or-miss lottery.
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