“We probably feel we are more balanced than we have ever been, and that is mainly down to the amount of Indian fast bowlers we have and the amount of Indian allrounders that we have. I think that will hopefully be a difference-maker this year, compared to last year.” This is what Daniel Vettori, Royal Challengers Bangalore’s head coach, had told Wisden India before the start of the Indian Premier League 2018.
Fast forward to the business end of the tournament, and Bangalore once again find themselves in a precarious situation. So far, they have managed to hang on by the thinnest of threads, thanks to comprehensive wins in their last two games, against Delhi Daredevils and Kings XI Punjab. Speaking on the eve of their game against Sunrisers Hyderabad at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Vettori said they would approach Thursday’s (May 17) match like they approached their last couple of games, by showing desperation.
“We know the scenario and the only way we can give ourselves that opportunity is having the desperation,” said Vettori. “This game and the next game (against Rajasthan Royals), we know they are two pretty tough games. Two good sides but that has been the conversation. Virat (Kohli) has spoken to the team about being desperate. That’s the analogy we are trying to use going into the next game.”
However, having been put in a must-win situation seems to have freed-up Bangalore. Vettori said this was best reflected in Kohli’s approach to batting, which also had a positive impact on the rest of the line-up. Of late, Kohli has switched to all-out aggression, which was missing in the initial part of the tournament. In the last three games, the Bangalore captain has amassed 157 runs at a strike rate of more than 160.
“I think the way that it appears to me visually is the way Virat bats,” Vettori stated. “He plays unencumbered and he plays aggressive, particularly in the Power Play. We have seen in the last two games versus Delhi and obviously in the last one versus Kings XI that he is prepared to take bowlers on and take a lot of risks. When he does that, that has a way of flowing through the rest of the team and particularly with our batting. When we are almost carefree, that’s when we are at our best. That’s what we need to be in the next two games.”
One of the reasons for Bangalore’s late resurgence has been the penetration of Umesh Yadav. The India paceman has a team-high 17 scalps at a more than acceptable economy of 8.01, and Vettori credited the right-arm quick for the early wickets that Bangalore have fed on. “He has been exceptional from day one in that Power Play. We sort of changed his role a little bit to utilize how skillful he is,” the coach gushed. “(He has) the ability to swing the ball. He has been such a wicket-taker in the Power Play. He has been exceptionally consistent in that first Power Play set. Our numbers say he is the best bowler in that time-frame and that’s why we have done well.”
Bangalore seem a more rounded side with the presence in the playing XI of Parthiv Patel and Moeen Ali. Asked why it them so long to find the right balance, Vettori had an interesting take. “I think we tried out a lot of different people,” said the Bangalore coach. “Look at Quinton (de Kock) and Washington (Sundar), pretty much identical to Parthiv and Moeen. We tried a lot of different ways and it always wasn’t successful but eventually, Parthiv has come in and played exceptionally well at the top of the order. Moeen has come in and bowled really well. We have filled those gaps.
“We like the balance of the team with seven batters and six bowlers. It makes decision-making a bit easier when it comes to when to bowling guys and when to utilize guys while batting. I think every team is on that path to find the right selections as quickly as possible and maybe we found that late in the tournament. But hopefully, it works in the next couple of games.”
Washington has made a name for himself as a solid bowling option in the Power Play, but Bangalore have used him sporadically and with limited success in that role. His overall season economy is 9.6, and Kohli didn’t trust the youngster to bowl more than one over in his last two games, before dropping him from the XI.
“He was obviously utilised in that role (bowling in the Power Play) for India and it is a role he did really well for Pune (Supergiant) last year,” Vettori said. “We anticipated him bowling the same way. I think what has happened is that batsmen have been slightly more aggressive to him, they have looked to take him on in those early overs. And playing at a ground like the Chinnaswamy, it is difficult at times because the pitch is so good. Obviously, the boundaries are so small. He hasn’t had the success that we would have liked but I think he is on a learning curve. Being 18 and achieving so much in a short period of time, I think it is a good opportunity for him to step back and improve in the areas he needs to improve in and he is the sort of guy who wants to improve. That’s exciting not only for RCB but for India in the years to come.”
Another concern for Bangalore has been the under-performance of their Indian batsmen. Barring Kohli, Mandeep Singh and Parthiv (for the last few games), the others have not been in the best of form. Sarfaraz Khan, who was retained ahead of the auction, has just scored just 22 runs from four digs, while Manan Vohra has managed 55 – 45 of which came via one knock – also from four innings. But Vettori held that it was probably because the duo had a tougher task without a settled batting position. He also stated that it was difficult to give players a longer run while searching for the right balance, although Sarfaraz did get three games in a row before being left out.
“Manan and Sarfaraz have had tough assignments. We have probably put them in situations where it has been tricky. (They) haven’t always known where they are going to bat and they have been in and out of the team. So it is tough to judge them on this season. We think they are very good players and they always come into selection but it is a tricky role we have asked of them, to bat around our stars and fit in when they can and there probably have been repercussions of trying to find that balance. I wouldn’t judge the two too harshly.
“He (Sarfaraz) played three matches in a row and then he was left out for the next four and then he played the next two. I think it’s difficult, with the constant search for balance as well as well guys taking their opportunities. When people miss out and other guys jump into the forefront of people’s minds, we also understand how good players these guys are, that’s the reason we wanted them in the team in the first place but as I said before, it is a tricky assignment that we have given them. Some guys do well and some guys don’t take their opportunities. We want to keep giving guys as many opportunities as we can.”