Virat Kohli sprinted across the pitch like a gazelle, pushing Anuj Rawat to take his second run off the last ball of the 19th over against Gujarat Titans on Sunday. At that time, Kohli was on 99 but the desperation was not for him to reach the personal landmark.
Kohli wanted the strike in the 20th over to maximise Royal Challengers Bangalore’s total in a must-win IPL 2023 match at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.
The moment, in fact, encapsulated RCB’s most glaring Achilles Heel in the whole of IPL 2023 — an underwhelming middle-order. Let’s do a bit of stats study!
Another season where RCB's top-three made majority of runs
RCB captain Faf du Plessis made 730 runs and he is the current holder of Orange Cap in the IPL 2023. Kohli has amassed 639 runs and Glenn Maxwell made 400 runs and his strike-rate for the season was 183. So, these three joined together to make 1,759 runs in 14 matches while the rest of the batters chipped in with a mere 733 runs.
Of course, it is a commendable fact that the KGF (Kohli, Glenn and Faf) absorbed the tremendous pressure on them to deliver on almost all occasions for RCB, but that was all about RCB’s batting this season.
There was no real back-up. Mahipal Lomror and Anuj Rawat and Shahbaz Ahmed, their most notable Indian signings, failed to produce consistent performances. The fourth highest run-scorer for RCB this season was Dinesh Karthik; he garnered just 140 runs and looked a pale shadow of the finisher that he was during the IPL 2022.
With Karthik misfiring down the order, the Royal Challengers struggled to add those vital 15-20 runs in the back-end, which often work as the difference in a format like T20. Kieron Pollard used to do that for Mumbai Indians and the five-time champions have found a replacement for the Trinidadian in Tim David and Cameron Green too plays that role at times.
Finisher Dinesh Karthik's poor run
However, RCB did not have any viable option in their ranks even when Karthik was desperately looking for a move-on.
Du Plessis was quite aware of this problem and he did not mask it either. “Last year DK had an incredible season, probably one of the purple patches of his life and was finishing games left, right and centre. This season, it wasn't to be. I thought there was a lot on his shoulders. I did feel that there could be someone with him to shoulder that responsibility.”
RCB batting coach Sanjay Bangar explained the middle-order dilemma further or more explicitly the absence of a power-hitter at No 5, 6 or 7 and its effect on the top three batters.
“If our lower order was going strong and converting whatever fewer balls they had, we would have gotten 10-15 runs extra or maybe the top order would have played more fearlessly. Our batting in the powerplay and middle overs were excellent; but our contributions in the last five overs in most games did hurt us a bit,” said Bangar.
Rajat Patidar's absence hurt RCB
There is one straw the RCB management can clutch on to is the injury-enforced absence of Rajat Patidar in batting, while the bowling unit was dented by the sporadic appearances of Josh Hazlewood (3 matches), Reece Topley (1 match) and Wanindu Hasaranga (8 matches).
Mohammed Siraj, however, was a revelation. The pacer took 19 wickets from 14 matches and more often than not gave RCB breakthroughs in the powerplay segment. But there was no real back-up for him.
Gujarat Titans were served well by Mohammad Shami and Rashid Khan as the duo took 48 wickets equally among them to be involved in an all-GT race for the Purple Cap. But there has been wonderful support for the Indo-Afghan pair from Mohit Sharma (17 wickets) and Noor Ahmad (13 wickets) as the opponents often found it tough to break free against the defending champions.
Mohd Siraj the lone warrior with the ball
In RCB’s case, Siraj waged a lone battle. Harshal Patel picked 14 wickets from as many matches but the pacer gave away 9.65 runs per over on an average and he was not at his best at death with that slow ball assortment. Harshal gave away more than 11 runs per over in that phase.
As is RCB’s vaunt, there have been periods of individual brilliance from Kohli, Faf, Maxwell and Siraj. But a complete team effort was a rarity as they were invested heavily on the KGF.
Unless they find a way to navigate the ship with the help of all the crew onboard, RCB and their humongous fan base will have to stare at an empty cupboard with disappointment and jealousy in future as well.
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