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The AB De Villiers conundrum: where should he bat for RCB?

by Rohit Sankar 3 minute read

AB de Villiers’ entry point in IPL 2021 could decide his impact and therefore the course of Royal Challengers Bangalore’s season, argues Rohit Sankar.

Last year, in a game against Kings XI Punjab, Royal Challengers Bangalore tried a freak move that brought them criticism from all quarters. At Sharjah, which had been a batting paradise, they were cruising at 10 runs per over when they lost their second opener in the first over after the powerplay. Instead of AB de Villiers, the customary No.4 walking in, they sent Washington Sundar and then Shivam Dube, both left-handers.

De Villiers would only walk in for the 17th over and was dismissed a few balls later, making little impact. RCB’s ploy to hold de Villiers back for the death overs invited considerable criticism. The fury raged on as de Villiers won the Player of the Match award next game from the No.4 position, in a run-chase against Rajasthan Royals.

A couple of matches later, de Villiers walked in during the powerplay against Sunrisers Hyderabad. He was trapped in a web of away turners by Rashid Khan and Shahbaz Nadeem and ambled along to 24 at run-a-ball before holing out.

RCB’s logic to hold the South African back in the game against Punjab stemmed from de Villiers’ well-documented match-up issue against leg-spinners, googlies in particular. Punjab’s spin twins, Murugan Ashwin and Ravi Bishnoi, lethal with their googlies in the tournament until then posed a massive threat to de Villiers.

On the other hand, there was benefit in saving de Villiers for the death given his powerful record in the death overs and ability to tee off with little to no settling-in time. RCB deviated from the plan the moment it didn’t yield the expected result, but evidence suggests they might have had better results down the lane had they stuck to their guns.

In the death overs in the last two seasons of the IPL, de Villiers scores at a rate of 235.2, the best for anyone facing at least 50 balls, Andre Russell aside. That, however, comes after a middling middle overs period where he wades through at a low strike rate against spinners who turn the ball away from him. In IPL 2020, he scored at a rate of 108.6 against leg-spinners and 119.6 against left-arm spinners in the middle overs.

It does not mean RCB need to hold de Villiers back for the death every game, protecting him from the spinners. But against teams that have quality leg spinners, in particular ones that have sharp googlies, and mystery spinners, like SRH (Rashid, Mujeeb), KKR (Varun Chakravarthy) and PBKS (Bishnoi), it makes sense to shield de Villiers a touch and save him for the last 5-6 overs, minimising the time he will need to face the spinners, especially since some of these teams have weaker death bowling resources that de Villiers can capitalise on.

De Villiers is such a key player for RCB in the second half of the innings, especially with Kohli now set to open the batting in IPL 2021. How they manage his entry point, thereby making sure he has enough overs to make an impact and fewer overs against unfavourable match-ups, could become a major factor in deciding how their season goes.

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