Royal Challengers Bangalore had arguably the most high-worth batting unit in the IPL last season, with Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle, but still finished bottom of the pile. Just three wins from 14 games does that.
And those batsmen were around when the team scored 49 against Kolkata Knight Riders, 96/9 against Rising Pune Supergiant and 119 against Kings XI Punjab.
The batting needed to improve, despite the big names, and so did the bowling, because more often than not, they conceded more than they scored.
Prior to the 2018 season, Kohli suggested that the problems had been addressed. Chris Woakes, Umesh Yadav, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Tim Southee had been added to the pace attack, and Moeen Ali had been drafted in as well as Washington Sundar, not to forget Yuzvendra Chahal. So the bowling looked solid. As for the batting, Gayle was waylaid and Brendon McCullum brought in.
But six matches into the new season, Bangalore have only two wins, and sit at seventh place on the table. They have scored runs, but thrice in six matches they have conceded over 200. The last time out was particularly disappointing. Chennai Super Kings needed 99 runs from seven overs, and got them with two balls to spare after an outstanding 53-ball 82 from Ambati Rayudu and a 34-ball blitz from Mahendra Singh Dhoni that gave him 70 unbeaten runs.
“But it’s OK. Just six matches over. Still we have eight matches,” argued Chahal, speaking before Bangalore’s game against Kolkata Knight Riders, to be played at home on Sunday, April 29. “If you see 2015 and 2016, and how we bounced back. So that’s what we are thinking of. Eight matches are left, and we are focussed on those.”
For the record, the team did make the final in 2016 and finished third in 2015 after up-and-down runs through the group stage.
Despite things not always going to plan for the team, Chahal has held his own so far. He has seven wickets from six games at an economy rate of 8.04 – behind in the wickets’ tally only to Yadav (9) and Woakes (8) and No.1 on the economy chart.
“The wicket is a little bit dry, it’s a batting wicket,” pointed out Chahal about the pitches in Bangalore, where they have played four of their games so far. “If you see the weather in Bangalore (it has been raining), the wicket is not fully prepared. This wicket you can bat, but there is a lot of turn, so I am enjoying it here. It’s a small ground, but there is something in it for the spinners.
“Sundar is bowling well, but sometimes he will get hit. So it’s … even if it’s a turning wicket, it depends on how you are bowling.”
Chahal, the 27-year-old leg-spinner, also gave credit where it was due – Rayudu and Dhoni, who pulled off one of the great chases in IPL history the other night, upsetting Bangalore’s plans after they had put up 205/8.
Kohli perhaps got his math wrong, and bowled Chahal out in the 13th over – 4-0-26-2 – and as Dhoni explained later, “What is important is to know who are the bowlers that are left, what are the options (their) captain has got, who is their best bowler on that particular wicket and who you can take on when it comes to the conditions and the variations.”
Chahal agreed. “You can say last match was Mahi (Dhoni) bhai’s game. Even in the Mumbai game, the way Rohit (Sharma, who scored a 52-ball 94 in a 46-run win) batted. He was batting superbly. Last match, both Rayudu and Mahi bhai batted so well, both of them were attacking,” said Chahal.
“Sometimes one guy is attacking and one guy is defending. But last match both were attacking, and they chose the bowlers. I bowled the 14th (13th) over and they didn’t hit me. They took singles. They planned accordingly.”
For Bangalore, the trick then will be in planning better. The batting has gone fine, but the bowling has been far too wasteful. To avoid a repeat of last season, and perhaps even make a surge for their maiden IPL title, things need to change, and change fast. Chahal’s right in that there is time left, but there isn’t a lot of it.