It’s been just about 10 days since the IPL 2021 got underway but the manner in which perennial underachievers Royal Challengers Bangalore have started their campaign has been a delight. For the first time in their history, RCB have won their first three matches and already beaten the likes of defending champions Mumbai Indians, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kolkata Knight Riders. Fittingly, they are sitting at the top of the points tally, remaining the only unbeaten team so far.
The begs the question: What is it that RCB have done differently from the past season(s) that has resulted in such an impressive start? Well, the answer(s) lies in how they shored up their squad at the auction in February this year and the strides taken by bowlers.
The Maxwell Puzzle in RCB middle-order
At the auction, RCB broke the bank to get Glenn Maxwell, a player that was released by Punjab Kings after his below-par show in UAE last season as he failed to hit a single six during the entire season. At the time, the decision seemed a bit odd considering how the Australian has generally fared in IPL since his breakthrough season in 2014 when he could do no wrong. It was at best a hit and trial.
Maxwell has given an indication he has found his old IPL touch – IPL because he has been churning out match-winning performances for Australia at international level even as his form kept dipping in the T20 league. In three innings, has aggregated 176 runs at 58.66 including two fifties and a strike-rate of 149.15.
However, what makes his those two fifties special is the fact that both came under trying circumstances. Against SRH, he made 59 off 41 after RCB slipped from 91/2 to 109/6. Then against KKR, he walked in with his team 9/2. He produced another mature knock that started on a slow pace before he shifted gears for an entertaining 78 off 39. And let’s not forget his 39 off 28 in the season opener against MI.
He has provided RCB the solidity in the middle-order they have been craving for. Last season, it was either left to Kohli or AB de Villiers to man the RCB ship whenever it found itself in stormy waters.
Also, Kohli has ensured Maxwell gets to bat at his preferred no. 4 batting spot from where he can control the game.
The Death-Overs Concerns
Last season, RCB splashed on allrounder Chris Morris whose untimely injuries meant they often found felt his absence as a bowler, especially in the death overs. They had to rely either on Mohammed Siraj or Navdeep Saini. The South Africa legend Dale Steyn looked well beyond his prime as he went for plenty and inexplicably, Umesh Yadav was given just two games before being benched.
Ahead of the season, RCB traded in Harshal Patel from Delhi Capitals. And he’s turning out to be quite an addition as he has effectively solved their death-overs worries. He has a five-wicket haul and with nine scalps from three games, is the current leading wicket-taker of the season.
Siraj, who has in the past has taken some beating from the likes of Andre Russell, seems to have found his footing in the shortest format as well. Bowling the 19th over against KKR on Sunday, the right-arm pacer, allowed just a single. On strike was Russell.
Are their any concerns?
Not that everything is hunky-dory. With Kohli opening the innings now, they need to find a reliable No. 3, which so far they haven’t been able to. They have used two different players for that batting spot including Rajat Patidar (vs MI and KKR) and Shahbaz Ahmed (vs SRH). Neither has done anything of note there. Promoting De Villiers will may weaken the the middle-order making RCB, as has been the case in recent years, a top-heavy batting unit.
RCB will want to plug this hole which as of know doesn’t seem a big deal. It’s a long season and they know it first-hand how things can change dramatically. They had won seven of their first 10 matches last season before losing the next five to finish fourth. Kohli would want to avoid a repeat.