RCB's muddle in the middle

RCB's muddle in the middle

While they lead RCB's batting charts this season, Virat Kohli (right) and Devdutt Padikkal have struggled to keep the foot on the accelerator in the middle overs. Sportzpics

Royal Challengers Bangalore may attribute the loss to defending champions Mumbai Indians on Wednesday to a sensational batting collapse in the death overs but there’s a bigger concern they need to find a address soon as they enter the all-important home stretch of the Indian Premier League. And that is the failure to force the pace in the crucial middle overs.

Amongst all the teams in the IPL this season, the Royal Challengers have the worst run rate between overs 7 and 15 — an unflattering 6.80 (see table). Even bottom-dwellers Chennai Super Kings have a much better run rate of 7.35 during this period while table-toppers Mumbai Indians score at an impressive rate of 8.52 runs per over. Strangely, RCB have struggled to maintain higher run-rate despite getting off to good starts for most part of the league.

The highest rate at which RCB have managed in the middle phase is 8.33 against MI on Wednesday, which is again below the champions’ rate of scoring. In fact that was the only game where the Royal Challengers touched the eight runs per over mark. Otherwise, they’ve just meandered around 6 to 7.5 runs. While the age-old tactic of keeping wickets in hand and exploding at the closing stages has worked on a few occasions, thanks to the brilliance of AB de Villiers, it has cost them two valuable points whenever this strategy has failed to click. 

As harsh as it may sound, the primary reason why RCB have slouched in the middle phase is the inability of Virat Kohli to take the attack to the spinners who operate primarily during that time. Even Devdutt Padikkal, who has been impressive in his debut season, has found it hard to maintain or enhance strike rate after the Powerplay. With 424 and 417 runs respectively, Kohli and Padikkal are RCB’s top two run getters but their overall strike rates are just 122.54 and 128.70. Among the specialist batsmen, only de Villiers scores at a higher rate (171.21) and he’s primarily playing the role of a finisher this season.

Sample this with other teams. Mumbai’s top three scorers Quinton de Kock, Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan score in excess of 140 per 100 balls while finishers Hardik Pandya (174.63) and Kieron Pollard (200) operate at a breakneck speed. Four genuine batsmen in Delhi Capitals’ camp have strike rates of over 140, while Kings XI Punjab’s top three run getters strike above 132. Even Rajasthan Royals have four players above 140 strike rate.

Kohli and Padikkal love the ball coming onto to the bat and are at ease attacking the seamers. The drives, the pulls and the flicks just flow effortlessly. But the moment spinners start operating, they find it hard to keep the tempo going, largely because they very rarely step down the track or try anything fanciful. If the ball is to be hit, they do punish it but if it’s good, they are happy to push for a single or two. They chance themselves in seeing off that phase and then try opening their shoulders once the pacers return. A couple of reasons could be playing on their minds for this approach — the larger grounds in the UAE and lack of explosive batting options, save de Villiers, in the end.

RCB are still placed quite well to make the playoffs after three years, a win from the last two games should do the trick. But they really need to fix the middle phase muddle. One of the batsmen, just like how Padikkal did against MI two days ago, needs to extend the aggressive approach beyond powerplay overs to ensure the momentum is not lost.