Ben Jones looks at how Virat Kohli’s side are looking ahead of their 14th tilt at the IPL title.
Coach: Simon Katich
Captain: Virat Kohli
Last Season: 4th
Venues: Kolkata 5, Ahmedabad 4, Chennai 3, Mumbai 2
Squad Changes: Chris Morris, Shivam Dube, Aaron Finch, Umesh Yadav, Dale Steyn, Parthiv Patel, Moeen Ali, Pawan Negi, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Isuru Udana, Glenn Maxwell, Sachin Baby, Rajat Patidar, Mohammed Azharuddeen, Kyle Jamieson, Dan Christian, Suyash Prabhudessai, Kona Srikar Bharat
Up and down the order, RCB are able to call on plenty of right-hand/left-hand combinations. Devdutt Padikkal at the top alongside Kohli starts in this vein, and as we saw last year, Washington Sundar is always an option to be promoted into the middle order should the situation demand it.
The top order – or at least the opening pair – being locked in domestics does open up plenty of options elsewhere, and the same can be said for the attack. At times last season the middle order of Dubey and Washington was rather limp, but the recruitment of Maxwell and Christian should give them options to solve that problem. No.4/5/6 of de Villiers, Maxwell, Christian, is one of the strongest in the competition.
In the domestic attack, the raw materials are excellent. Mohammed Siraj can swing the new ball, Navdeep Saini is among the quickest Indian bowlers in the competition, and Chahal – despite a poor series against England – is the best white ball spinner in India. While the identity of the rest of the attack isn’t clear – and their success could be dependent on Jamieson acclimatising quickly – they have a good base to build from.
RCB attracted a lot of attention, and plenty of ridicule, for their outlay on Jamieson, but the upside of a relative unknown with clearly unique physical attributes is vast. Similarly, Finn Allen may not get much of a run in the side unless plans change, but his early T20 performances have been astonishing. High risk as you would expect for a young player, but high reward.
As already touched on, the bowling depth outside the first XI is poor. Adam Zampa is an excellent back up leg-spinner, but neither Kane Richardson nor Daniel Sams demands a spot in the first XI, and neither solves the death bowling issue, where RCB look very light. Chahal is their most economical bowler in the phase and he still goes at 9.4rpo in IPL, while Saini (9.5rpo) and Siraj (10.7rpo) don’t inspire huge confidence. An element of those records will be the influence of the Chinnaswamy, but that can’t remain an excuse, Kohli will be hopeful that the ball speed of Jamieson and the experience of Christian will help in this regard, but it’s a concern.
Their spin flexibility is helpful, with Chahal and Washington taking the ball in opposite directions, and both able to bowl in every phase. Jamieson and Saini’s pace is good insurance against the middle order spin hitters, and gives them tactical flexibility at the death. Batting-wise, they’re a very strong unit against pace and the only bowling type which hurts a number of their players, is off spin – DC, SRH, and KKR match-up well in this regard.
The primary debate for RCB is the identity of the final Indian batsman. Mohammed Azharudeen and Sachin Baby are the players most likely to compete for the final spot, with the latter perhaps getting the start as a left-hander through the middle, despite Azharudeen’s stronger numerical record against spin.
Have RCB improved from last season? In terms of their squad, it’s hard to argue so. The loss of Chris Morris stands out among a quite significant turnover of first XI contenders, but the replacements are gambles rather than proven stars. With Mumbai and Sunrisers the clear standouts ahead of the season, with Delhi just behind, you’d expect RCB to be part of the chasing pack for the final play-off spot along with Rajasthan Royals, and Kolkata Knight Riders.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.