IPL Preview - Royal Challengers Bangalore
RCB have perhaps been the serial under-achievers in the history of the IPL, despite having a squad that’s seemingly always stacked with ‘big names’ they’ve yet to win an IPL title. In terms of results they have improved over the last couple of seasons, making the play-offs on both occasions, finishing 4th & 3rd in the group stage in 2020 & 21 respectively. This is something they haven’t managed to do since 2016, where they finished runners-up, in what was Kohli’s golden season; scoring 973 runs, at a strike rate of over 150 with the bat. Unsurprisingly this is a feat he hasn’t been able to get close to since. Results have improved but have the performances in recent seasons been notably better?
The performances have certainly improved but by the looks of the graph above, they seem to have overperformed in 2021, based on what we would expect by looking at their economy rate differential. This could make it a potentially difficult challenge for those in charge at RCB, with expectations likely to be higher than ever based on previous results but the performances haven’t necessarily been as impressive as one would think. Luckily for them, we’ve had a mega auction, which gives them the opportunity to change their squad as much as they’d like.
Like a few other teams, there was a big change in the captaincy department at RCB between seasons. Virat Kohli stepped down from the role and the only realistic option from the other players they retained was Glenn Maxwell. Given he’s going to miss games this season and hasn’t always found things easy at IPL level, this wouldn’t have been an ideal choice, meaning they had to look for a captain at the mega auction.
There was quite a lot of speculation as to whether they’d choose an overseas or domestic player, not many teams have utilised an overseas captain and it’s generally considered as a bit risky by IPL franchises. As it happened, RCB did go down the overseas route, picking up Faf du Plessis for 7cr, after a bidding war with his former franchise (CSK) and they announced him as captain soon after. Faf was in set one at the auction so it was clearly something RCB had prioritised and didn’t want to dwell on.
I guess the other massive bit of news between seasons was the retirement of AB De Villiers, perhaps not a massive surprise at the age of 37 (now 38), nevertheless, it’s a loss that will be felt by RCB. ABD had played at RCB for 11 seasons in a row and his numbers during those seasons were ridiculously good, with an average of over 40 and strike rate of almost 160, he is an IPL great and I’m not sure how many more players we’ll see reach the levels he consistently hit. The end of an era.
There was also change off the field, with Sanjay Bangar replacing Mike Hesson as coach. Hesson stays with the franchise though and will act as the director of cricketing operations, a title that most IPL franchises seem to have in place these days. RCB also formed a partnership with cricviz, who assisted with their mega auction preparations ahead of the season and I think that partnership extends to during the season as well.
Retained players: Virat Kohli, Glenn Maxwell & Mohammed Siraj.
None of these names are really surprising, perhaps the only surprising thing was that RCB only retained three players. They had quite a few options for that fourth retention spot, with Chahal, Harshal Patel & Padikkal all being realistic options. It was rumoured that they tried to retain Chahal but couldn’t come to an agreement in terms of price. As for the other two, I’m not sure if RCB tried to retain them but I think retaining Padikkal at 6cr could’ve been a potentially realistic option.
In terms of the three players they retained, Virat Kohli was retained in the top slot for 15cr. Glenn Maxwell took the second slot at 11cr, this wasn’t surprising after how good he was last season and as a reliable player of spin, he looks to have a crucial role to make sure Faf/Kohli’s weaknesses against spin can’t be exploited. He also gives them a fairly reliable off-spin option. Mohammed Siraj was the third and final player to be retained, at 7cr, it looks to be one of, if not, the best value retention of all teams. Siraj has shown big improvements in recent IPL seasons and is possibly the best multi-phase bowler India has, after Bumrah.
- Glenn Maxwell - Recently got married, so his arrival in India will be delayed. Expected to miss the first 2–3 games.
- Josh Hazlewood - Not allowed to feature until the conclusion of Australia’s white ball tour in Pakistan. This finishes on April 5th, which is the date of RCB’s third game. So, I’m unsure if he’ll miss two or three games.
- Jason Behrendorff - In Australia’s white ball squad for the series against Pakistan, will travel to India after that and complete three days of quarantine. Likely to miss their first four matches.
The major debate surrounding RCB’s playing XI this season will be about getting the best out of Faf & Kohli, two relatively similar players, both with a big bias towards hitting pace instead of spin. I think Kohli’s optimal position in t20’s these days is probably as an opener but could an opening partnership of him & Faf work? Or would it give opposition sides an opportunity to get through some easy overs of spin during the powerplay? There wouldn’t be many more stable opening partnerships than a Faf-Kohli one, though slow starts could be relatively common and for that reason, I don’t think we’ll see them batting together at the top of the order this season.
I think the most likely scenario will be an opening partnership of Faf & Anuj Rawat - who RCB purchased for 3.4cr, a fee which certainly raised a few eyebrows. From a data point of view, his numbers aren’t all that impressive, though he has shown versatility, batting from 1–6 in the last three SMA seasons. Like I said, his numbers in those three seasons haven’t exactly been amazing, an average of 32 and strike rate of 122 isn’t much to get excited about. The RCB scouts have clearly seen something they like with him and they’ve got a good track record in recent seasons so I guess we’ll have to see how things play out. This is how I’d expect RCB to line up at full strength:
Lomror batting at five doesn’t feel like an ideal position for him, he’s generally a better player of spin so 1–2 places higher would be where I’d expect to get the most from him. However, it’s a trade off RCB will likely have to make to compensate for Faf/Kohli’s lack of scoring prowess against spin. If RCB feel like they need more a pace hitter at five they do have the option to go with Suyash Prabhudessai.
It’ll be interesting to see how flexible RCB are with Kohli’s batting position, if Anuj Rawat gets dismissed before Faf, which is likely to happen fairly often, will RCB promote one of Maxwell/Lomror or stick with Kohli at 3 regardless? It would probably make more sense to drop him down the order, given his excellent acceleration vs pace but feels like it would be difficult to convince Kohli himself to bat at 4/5 in some matches.
With a few players missing for the initial matches, RCB will have to make a couple of changes:
This doesn’t seem like that much of an issue, the changes will be relatively straight forward; Rutherford & Willey will come in for Maxwell & Hazlewood. For some other teams, domestic players and team balance looks like it could also change for the initial matches but because RCB recruited well when it came to their back up overseas players (replacements are relatively like for like) this looks like less of an issue for them. I’d expect the replacement for Hazlewood would’ve been Behrendorff but he isn’t available for either, so Willey comes in, a slight downgrade in terms of bowling quality, though it does leave the team with an abundance of batting options. With Shahbaz Ahmed carded at 10, it’s reminiscent of recent CSK teams and they’ve got plenty of options in those 7–10 positions to potentially utilise them as pinch hitters in various phases.
Powerplay bowling - A powerplay duo of Hazlewood and Siraj looks to be the strongest in the tournament for me. Neither of them are absolutely rapid but they’re quick enough, both boast average speeds of over 135 and Siraj in particularly, is capable of cranking it up if needed. They’re also quite different bowlers which should work in RCB’s favour; Siraj is generally quite skiddy, while Hazlewood has that high release point (only Jansen, Holder and Jamieson have higher) and is more of a seam-orientated bowler.
Bowling unit balance - The balance of their bowling unit looks tailor made to get the best out of individual bowlers. For example, some would say the Harshal Patel purchase was pricey, which it was but in this specific set up he looks perfect. Having a bowler with a later overs skillset will allow them to front-load Siraj & Hazlewood, with those two likely to bowl at least four, sometimes five overs in the powerplay between them. In addition to that they’ve got a quality leg spinner, Hasaranga has dominated in t20i’s since making his debut in 2019. No bowler has a better strike rate than Hasaranga in games against ‘top 10’ ranked sides:
As a spinner that strike rate is seriously impressive and no one has really got close to him. It feels strange that it’s taken him this long to get a proper chance in a higher-level franchise competition, though that could be partly as a result of his all-format international commitments. They also have Shahbaz Ahmed and Glenn Maxwell as orthodox spin options, Shahbaz has performed well whenever he’s had a chance in the last two seasons, while Maxwell is a decent match up bowler in his own right. You’d say the only bowler-type they’re potentially lacking is a genuine middle overs enforcer, though I’m not sure that’s critical to success in t20's.
Batting depth - Though the lower order batters aren’t necessarily ideally suited to later over batting in t20 cricket, it’s still a nice bonus to have. A likely 7–9 of Hasaranga, Harshal Patel and Shahbaz should give the top order enough incentive to bat relatively aggressively. Those three players could also be promoted up the order as low-value wickets, Harshal as a powerplay pinch hitter and the other two as spin hitters. It wouldn’t surprise me if we saw a few experiments from RCB in this regard.
Overseas backups - RCB have one of the best group of overseas back ups in the competition and most of them could act as ready-made replacements for players in their starting XI. Other teams look significantly weaker for the initial matches with key overseas players out and some teams even have to change their team balance for those matches because they’ve recruited poorly. I’m not sure that’s the case with RCB.
Faf & Kohli too similar? - Having both of these two in the same team does feel a little unnecessary, given how similar they are. Of course, given the technical abilities and quality of the two you’d say they’re good enough to make it work but elite sport doesn’t discriminate. It’s happened plenty of times in other sports where certain teams have been ‘too good to be relegated’ and they still have been, if Faf & Kohli can’t find a way to make it work while batting together, they’ll likely be a hinderance to RCB. That responsibility will also lie with the players batting around them and splitting them does feel like the best solution. When I said they were similar, I really meant it:
During the last auction cycle, they were almost identical, both in terms of their overall stats and their game against pace/spin. Faf had the slightly higher boundary percentage, likely as a result of opening in almost all of his games and both struck at a much faster rate against ‘pace’. If we look at their phase data in the same time frame we get a similar picture:
Both have decent, without being spectacular powerplay numbers, before they become relatively stagnant but secure in the post-powerplay phase. During the second half of the middle overs their averages drop, likely as a result of playing more aggressively against spin and strike rates rise but not to a level that would be considered particularly amazing during that phase of an innings. They’re also both elite when it comes to accelerating at the death, striking at over 200 and averaging over 40. Based on this, you’d have to think at least one of them needs to take more risks against spin this season, if not both. The similarities are obvious over a longer period of time but less so in the last couple of seasons:
Faf has clearly adapted much better to the games held in the UAE, where as Kohli struggled and his game against spin became even more stagnant.
Reliant on Maxwell - This is linked to the point above. You’d say Maxwell is the only ‘established’ spin hitter in the RCB squad, we can’t be certain how well Anuj Rawat and Lomror will do at IPL level. With this in mind it’s worth noting that Maxwell has been relatively hit or miss in the IPL, before last season, where he averaged over 40 and struck at almost 145, Maxwell had averaged less than 20 in his previous 55 IPL innings. I think it’s fair to say there was a bit of misusage there, with 27 of those innings coming at positions 5 & 6, number 4 or even batting at three would arguably be a better suit for him. However, it’s probably fair to say those numbers over a large sample size prior to last season are a little underwhelming.
I think we can conclude that he likely overperformed last season and it would be difficult for him to get close to those numbers again and it feels like RCB need him to do so for their batting order to really click. That isn’t to say they can’t be competitive with a slightly worse version of Maxwell, their bowling unit will win them matches but I don’t think they can be one of the top batting sides unless Maxwell really fires again.
Lacking a high pace option/enforcer - I don’t think this is a huge issue but it would’ve been a nice luxury to have in the squad. Someone like a Navdeep Saini, that’s capable of reaching speeds of 145+ fairly regularly would’ve been a useful asset in specific games.
Faf du Plessis - Has certainly raised his level in the IPL over the last two seasons. Perhaps it’s been a technical/mindset change on the back of retiring in other formats? I can’t be certain in that regard but his output/performances have certainly improved, that to in more difficult conditions:
Faf has been one of the best-performing batters over the last two seasons. Only Ravindra Jadeja has averaged higher than him and scored his runs at a quicker rate. In terms of Faf’ improvement, his strike rate has jumped from 124 in 2018 & 19 to just shy of 140 in 2020 & 21. Typically, you’d say this was just as a result of playing away from Chepauk, though I’m not sure the pitches in the UAE were significantly better. What I find particularly interesting is where that increase in scoring rate has come from:
A jump in strike rate of just over 15 is fairly significant, though the accompanied rise in boundary percentage is only 1.6%, usually you’d expect a slightly bigger increase in that stat, with such a rise in scoring rates. We can see that his non-boundary strike rate did jump by a noticeable amount, the most likely reason for this is that he would’ve spent more time batting with a more athletic partner (sorry Watto) in Ruturaj Gaikwad. Faf & Kohli would certainly be suited to batting together, if was solely based on their ability to run between the wickets, this could genuinely help the team if they’re ever batting together in the later overs. Similar to what the ABD & Kohli partnership did to teams for years, they were capable of running you ragged, while also clearing the ropes with ease.
Another interesting part of the recent improvement from Faf has been that his game against spin has remained at a similar level:
His strike rate against spin actually dropped in 2020 & 21 but his scoring rate against ‘pace’ increased by 25. Seriously impressive numbers and Faf has emerged as one of the best pace hitters over the last two seasons:
Only Kishan struck at a faster rate than Faf in the last two seasons, while Faf was also more secure than most. If he can maintain these numbers, will his lack of scoring ability against spin even be an issue?
A final note on Faf - his death overs acceleration is very underrated, you’ll often here it mentioned when it comes to players like Kohli/KL Rahul but rarely with Faf, despite his numbers being as impressive as anyone.
Anuj Rawat - Like I said earlier, purely based on numbers he doesn’t look that impressive but the RCB scouts have likely seen something they like in him. I think there’s a very high chance he’ll open with Faf and his role will be relatively simple - provide a base in the powerplay and then attack at any opportunity against spin. Looks to have done well in the RCB practice matches, though those matches are often geared towards batters. Interested to see how he goes this season, RCB have invested heavily in him.
Virat Kohli - I’m not even sure the most hardcore of Kohli fans would be pleased with his output in the last couple of seasons. He opened last season, a role which many thought would bring more success, in reality, it was one of, if not his worst IPL season. He did his initial job fairly well, striking at just over 130 but his post-powerplay slow down was even more extreme than normal (SR of under 100 in 7–11 phase). In general, this phase has been a massive issue for him in the last two seasons:
His strike rate is much worse than any other player and his boundary percentage is also rather pathetic at just over 6%, he clearly isn’t taking enough risks in this phase. All of this makes you think that batting him at three isn’t optimal at all. RCB will be hoping with good players of spin around him and a return to India that Kohli can re-discover a decent level in the IPL:
Scoring against spin has never really been a strength for Kohli in t20’s, other than in 2015 & 16 and his lack of ability to score against spin was certainly stood out more in the UAE (majority of the last two seasons). Although, he has been secure, how much value is there in that when you’re striking at such a slow rate? I’d certainly expect different numbers against spin in the coming season, whether his strike rate significantly changes I’m not sure but there should be less of a focus on security regardless.
Glenn Maxwell - He performed his role to perfection last season, averaging over 50 and striking at 162 against SLA/leg spin, he did his best to counter the weaknesses of other players in the side by attacking spin throughout. Unsurprisingly he was the fastest scorer against SLA/leg spin last season:
It would be a big ask to maintain those numbers again this season but RCB will be hoping he can do that. I said earlier that he probably overperformed last season and I think the clearest example of that was his first 10 balls average, which was 78 last season (only getting dismissed twice in his first 10 balls all season). This is much higher than what we’d expect based on previous performances, for example, in the last two seasons of the BBL his first 10 balls average of 21 and likewise it’s similar in t20i’s (21.5 since 2019), typically he isn’t as reliable at the start of his innings as he showed last season. Of course, still a very good player and crucial part of this RCB team but he’d do well to hit the heights of last season again. Handy match up bowler and is even quite good against RHB’s for an off spinner.
Mahipal Lomror - Had a couple of impressive knocks for Rajasthan last season and a couple of relatively shocking ones. This seems to be a theme in SMA games as well, he is far less consistent than most. He looks like a much stronger player against spin so it’ll be interesting to see if RCB are flexible with his position.
Dinesh Karthik - It felt like the right time for DK to move on from KKR and in doing so he has joined RCB, for a fee of 5.5 cr. Pretty good value considering the lack of domestic players with his skillset and that he takes care of the wicket taking position. His death overs strike rate has typically been very good (185 or higher in three of the last four seasons), it did drop off last season but as of right now that looks like an anomaly. Numbers against spin have been extremely weak in the last two seasons (av 10, SR 112) and despite that KKR used him in the top five in almost 50% of his innings over the last two seasons. That misusage is one of the main reasons for his drop off in overall numbers, though he has probably gotten slightly worse. However, I expect him to do well for RCB this season.
Wanindu Hasaranga - Already talked about his dominance in t20i’s and that’s all I can really say about him for now. As a wrist spinner, he has nailed every challenge that’s been thrown at him so far. The IPL will likely be a step up on most of the international games he has played in, he should be well-equipped to make that jump though. As per this excellent graphic from @CricketWithAsh , his googly is extremely threatening:
A combination of his low release point and how he often he hits the stumps with his googly makes it extremely difficult for opposing batters to negotiate.
With the bat, he’s generally a weak six hitter and probably doesn’t have the power game to play as a pure finisher, though he’s still a handy player to have in reserve if DK fails. Could also see him promoted up the order to attack through the middle on occasion.
Harshal Patel - The purple cap winner from last season, he took an incredible 32 wickets, which led to him receiving a big pay day at the auction. He returned to RCB for 10.75cr, after a bidding war with SRH. Naturally, there’ll be questions over whether he’ll be a one season wonder, owing to ‘slower ball’ bowlers in the past that have seen their performances drop off after 1–2 seasons. There were even question marks over whether his performance levels would drop off heading into the UAE leg last season, we can clearly see that this wasn’t the case:
His strike rate remained at a similar level, while his economy and boundary percentage conceded dropped massively. I can’t see the drop off that quite a few are expecting actually happening. A combination of his high yorker success percentage and slower ball variations will make him a tricky customer, particularly in the phases he bowls, where batters are looking to accelerate. Of course, he’ll have games where he goes the distance but no one is immune to that at the death. The RCB set up looks ideal for him, won’t be asked to many overs early on in the innings and can be held back for scenarios that suit him better.
Potential powerplay pinch hitter with the bat? Harshal scored over 500 runs in the 17/18 & 18/19 SMA seasons while batting in the top three, at an average of 30 and strike rate of 165. Would surely be worth a try at some point?
Shahbaz Ahmed - Another local player that RCB seem really keen on. Has performed well whenever called upon in the last two seasons, despite not being a regular in the XI. His domestic performances have also been impressive with the ball:
He has been one of the better spin bowlers in the Syed Mushtaq Ali and considering a few of those that have been ‘better’ than him, will have played a lot in the plate group he has done well.
As a LHB, could be used as pinch hitter to counter opposition spin match ups, with little to no value on his wicket, otherwise he’s likely to bat at 8/9.
Josh Hazlewood - In general, has been a very reliable powerplay performer in his t20 career. His numbers in this phase for Australia are outrageously good (ER 5.5, SR 15) in games he has played since the start of 2020. Only Bumrah has a better economy rate of bowlers that have bowled at least 25 overs in this phase since 2019 (against top ten ranked teams only) and only two bowlers had a better strike rate. Strangely enough his numbers dropped off noteably in this phase for CSK last season (ER 8.57, SR 31.5), though I’m not convinced that’s anything to be to concerned by yet. He has talked about trying to become more of an option at the death, which would make him an even greater t20 asset but he’s still a long way from being the finished article in that phase. I expect him to be front-loaded this tournament, bowling two powerplay overs in every game, sometimes three could be a possiblity. 3–0–1 or 2–1–1 role.
Mohammed Siraj - His progress in the last couple of years shouldn't go unnoticed. He has gone from being considered an IPL flop, to breaking into the India team in all formats and also becoming one of the more reliable multi-phase bowlers in the IPL:
His performances have improved dramatically, this will be partly helped by conditions in the last two seasons but those numbers are still well above average. His multi-phase ability, particularly last season, can be shown in the graphs below:
He was arguably the best pace bowler after Nortje last season, despite bowling a higher percentage of overs during ‘crucial phases’ he had the second lowest economy rate. He also showed up really well when it came to comparing powerplay and death overs economy rates, he was closer to the ideal bottom-left corner than anyone else.
David Willey - Recently had an impressive PSL for Multan Sultans, where he was a key bowler for them, taking 13 wickets in eight matches and his new ball wickets (six) were of great value to them and of the bowlers to bowl at least ten powerplay overs, none of them had a better strike rate than Willey. Powerplay wickets have always been one of his main weapons, if there is any swing on offer, he’ll find it. Not quick by any means but despite that, his t20 stats have held up over a long period of time. A lot of his success with the bat in t20’s has come batting up the order for Yorkshire, which I highly doubt he’ll get the opportunity to do in the IPL.
Shefane Rutherford - His stats always look slightly underwhelming, in comparison to the player you see when watching him live. He is one of the cleaner strikers of the cricket ball and also has off side power to match. A lot of his ‘struggles’ have come in the Caribbean:
He has had much more success outside of the CPL, not surprising given the pitches they’ve played on in recent CPL tournaments. His boundary percentage also increases by a considerable margin and generally, he is a good six hitter anyway. Likewise, his strike rate against spin goes up by 20 when going from CPL to Non-CPL competitions. I think it’s fair to say he’s more comfortable against pace and his impressive t10 record (SR 210) also backs that up. Will likely bat at five in the matches he plays.
Finn Allen - In a way, it’s bitter-sweet, while I’m very pleased he got an IPL deal (he really deserved one) he’s probably at a franchise where he’s unlikely to play many matches. Rutherford will almost certainly be the Maxwell replacement for the initial matches and I don’t see RCB’s big name top order players missing any matches. Allen made a name for himself through his fast-scoring in the Super Smash (NZ’s domestic t20 competition) and although that standard of that can certainly be debated and pitches are generally batter-friendly, the dominance of Allen can’t go unnoticed:
When a 22 year old shows this level of dominance, it’s fair to say he probably has a bit about him. His strike rate is 35 runs per 100 balls better than anyone else and his boundary percentage is also 8% higher than anyone else. I’ve also highlighted the other New Zealand players on the graph that have got an IPL deal and none of those players strike at above 150. His success in that competition, resulted in a summer of cricket in the UK last season, where he played in both the Hundred & T20 blast, in which he averaged 28 and struck at just over 150. Has played a few games in t20’s for New Zealand but he should’ve played a lot more in my opinion.
Jason Behrendorff - Bowls a very high percentage of his overs in the powerplay and is generally good at that, without being amazing. Beyond that, he is quite limited and his signing is probably my least favourite of the RCB overseas backups.
Siddarth Kaul - If RCB’s overseas players are relatively like-for-like in terms of who they’d replace in the XI, I see Kaul as a fairly close replacement to Harshal Patel. Despite a luck of success in recent IPL seasons, in comparison to his 2017 & 18 seasons, where he took 37 wickets in total. However, his domestic numbers have remained decent in recent seasons and overall, I think he is an okay back up player.
Suyash Prabhudessai - Thought to be one of the better players against pace in domestic cricket, his numbers are impressive (average 30, SR 150) and looks like one of the most likely domestic players to play if there is injuries. He could play when they’re at full strength anyway.
Karn Sharma - Looks to be a back up for Hasaranga, in the sense that he can offer something with bat & ball, obviously his quality is much lower. Will probably only play if Hasaranaga is injured.
Akash Deep - Don’t know too much about him but his SMA numbers are very impressive. He has been one of the most economical non-spin bowlers in that competition in recent seasons, his strike rate of 17 and economy of 6.27 since he made his debut, are numbers that are as good as anyone.
Player stats sheet:
In conclusion, there are certainly concerns to be had over the similarity of Faf & Kohli and it could leave the batting line up looking fairly clunky at times. However, I don’t think this will be terminal to their chances of success, the overall quality of their bowling line up should shine through. In a similar way to the KKR bowling unit, it looks like you’ll have to take more risks to score runs against this RCB team than most.
The traditionalist in me would also back Faf/Kohli to find a way to make it work, especially given Faf’s recent improvement in t20’s. I expect both to take a more aggressive approach against spin than they have in previous seasons. There’s undoubtedly big pressure on the domestic players and Maxwell to act as fail-safe options against spin, if Faf and Kohli do struggle to increase their intent against spin this season. I’m hesitant to go too overboard with a prediction but I’d feel more confident backing RCB for a top two finish, than most teams. Overall, I think their bowling will ensure they make the play offs, the performance of their batting unit will determine their success beyond that.
Thanks for reading!