The recent RCB tendency to shove Glenn Maxwell and AB de Villiers down the order could see them repeating their same old mistake, writes Aadya Sharma.
It’s simple really – your best batsmen should play as many deliveries as they can in a T20 game.
In Devdutt Padikkal and Virat Kohli, Royal Challengers Bangalore possess an opening pair that fires at a decent clip in the powerplay, often setting the platform for the two in-form power-hitters Glenn Maxwell and AB de Villiers to power them to a big total. A strong start to the season led fans to wonder if this might finally be their year.
It hasn’t been as simple in recent times, with two losses in their last three games, with the victory being off a one-run margin.
An underlying issue is Kohli’s indifferent form. While there’s no question of him being left out of the side, it has made the identity of their No.3 much debated, with RCB having to decide between exposing an explosive, valuable overseas option early on, or plumping for a steadier domestic option to tick over. So far, they have settled on the latter. In six games, they have used three different players at one-down, and, surprisingly, none of them have been Maxwell or de Villiers, their two most successful batsmen this year.
Now, it’s good to give youngsters Rajat Patidar, Shahbaz Ahmed and Washington Sundar a go at the pivotal position. While Shahbaz and Sundar are likely to have been promoted to maintain the left-hand, right-hand combination, Patidar’s had the longest run, batting at the spot in all four of his games, and has more 30-plus scores (2) than Maxwell managed in the IPL in the last two years combined.
Kohli has spoken about Patidar playing a good player of spin, and the 27-year-old carries domestic credentials that justify the faith. Patidar strikes at 140.25 in T20s, and in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy 2020/21, the only recent domestic tournament of note, he struck at 157.48 in seven matches.
However, Patidar hasn’t managed to play with the same flow in his maiden IPL season – after four games, his strike-rate stands at 114.51, with three fours and as many sixes in 62 balls. Against spin, he’s been tied down, rarely finding the requisite power or timing in the middle overs. He’s playing the anchor role, but considering the players below him, it’s doing more harm than good.
After their match against PBKS, where Patidar’s 30-ball 31 was the joint-second-highest score from RCB, commentator Kevin Pietersen asked Kohli why neither AB nor Maxwell were batting at No.3.
“The composition of our team is such that someone like Rajat, if you see his knock in the last game, he controlled things nicely,” Kohli said. “So, we give him freedom at three to play the situation, sometimes it comes off, sometimes it doesn’t. So, Maxi at 4 and AB at 5 has really worked for us.”
Calling Patidar a “quality player”, Kohli also said that one of Maxwell and de Villiers can enter the game early if there’s a decent partnership going.
The existing plan has left Maxwell and de Villiers, with a strike-rate of 144.80 and 164.28 this season, with fewer deliveries to face. In the two innings that Maxwell has crossed 50, he has gone on to play at least 40 deliveries in the innings, making the top score in the match on both occasions.
The reluctance to send both Maxwell and de Villiers early is understandable; for years, RCB have struggled with a top-heavy line-up that tapers drastically once the superstars are done, leaving a brittle middle order to finish the game. But Patidar’s neither-here-nor-there approach is taking away chances from someone like a Maxwell to construct big innings, something he’s managed twice so far, but only because of early wickets.
Essentially, it looks more and more like RCB are trying to use Maxwell and de Villiers in the same manner as Mumbai Indians employ Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya: at the death, coming in in the last five overs to go ballistic from the word go. With Kohli’s current form, however, the overseas duo needs to do much more than just finish the innings in the last five.
It’s worth having a re-think: Maxwell, batting as well as he ever has in the IPL, can feasibly play the ‘controlling’ game at first-drop that’s expected of Patidar, while getting the necessary acceleration in the middle overs against spin. It also gives him more time to settle, making a sturdier platform for de Villiers to follow, and more importantly, giving the South African more balls to face, an issue that was one of their biggest talking points from last year.
In turn, Patidar and Ahmed can come lower down the order with the sole purpose of gathering quick runs; the single-minded focus could actually free Patidar up from the responsibility of shaping an innings. Further, if need be, with Kyle Jamieson, Daniel Sams (or Dan Christian) and even Harshal Patel, there’s enough firepower to finish with a bang.
It’s a change that will have to happen soon, to stop RCB’s dream start becoming one of their all-too-familiar IPL nightmares.
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