Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) has made heavy weather of what appeared like a stroll in the park until a week ago. With 14 points from 10 games, it needed a solitary win to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
But two crushing defeats to Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Mumbai Indians (MI) have seen fans squirm in their seats uncomfortably. On Saturday, when it meets Sunrisers Hyderabad in Sharjah, it will look to end this nervous wait.
The two positives to emerge for RCB even in the five-wicket loss to MI were the emergence of Devdutt Padikkal (74 runs) and Josh Philippe (33) as a potent opening combination and the side’s middle-overs batting.
After the repeated failures of Aaron Finch at the top, the young Aussie came as a breath of fresh air, while Padikkal batting for an extended period meant RCB scored 80 runs from overs seven to 16.
“Teams have planned well against us,” said Simon Katich, the head coach of RCB, after the MI match. “They have taken the pace off the ball. But we found out when young Padikkal batted what a big difference it makes for one player to get a 70-odd score. It helps when one of the openers plays through the PowerPlay, is well set and gets the odd boundary and six off the spinners.”
Wriddhiman Saha plays a shot during SRH’s match against KKR in IPL 2020. – BCCI/Sportzpics
The key men
But the way RCB withered after Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers fell cheaply has revived concerns that the outfit is over-dependent on the star duo. Only 35 runs came off the final five overs, something which finally proved catastrophic. That frontline bowler Navdeep Saini, who missed the last match because of a split webbing, remains a doubt won’t be reassuring either, more so with replacement Dale Steyn having a forgettable evening.
This hardly seems like the ideal preparation against a dangerous side like SRH, which is battling for dear life. The Hyderabad franchise has to win its two remaining games and hope for other results to go its way to keep up the trend of having reached the playoffs every time since 2016.
Tuesday’s 88-run thrashing of Delhi Capitals has given it both momentum and a heady net run rate (+0.396), the second best in the competition after MI (+1.186). The belligerence of openers David Warner (66, 34b) and Wriddhiman Saha (87, 45b) had set up that win.
Saha’s inclusion in place of Jonny Bairstow (SRH’s then second-highest run-scorer with 345 runs) seems inspired in hindsight, but it was more about getting the balance right than form. This headache may return for SRH if Saha doesn’t recover from the groin injury he sustained.
While Rashid Khan continues to amaze – as his bewildering 4-0-7-3 figures against DC show – a hamstring injury to all-rounder Vijay Shankar doesn’t bode well, as SRH continues the search for a frontline bowling option to complement the efforts of Rashid and T. Natarajan. Jason Holder, who was supposed to fill that role in the last game, went for 46 in his four overs.
Think tanks of both the teams have a lot of head-scratching to do.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: Aaron Finch, Devdutt Padikkal, Parthiv Patel, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Gurkeerat Singh, Shivam Dube, Chris Morris, Washington Sundar, Shahbaz Ahmed, Navdeep Saini, Dale Steyn, Yuzvendra Chahal, Adam Zampa, Isuru Udana, Moeen Ali, Josh Philippe, Pawan Negi, Pavan Deshpande, Mohammad Siraj, Umesh Yadav.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: David Warner (Captain), Jonny Bairstow, Kane Williamson, Manish Pandey, Shreevats Goswami, Virat Singh, Priyam Garg, Wriddhiman Saha, Abdul Samad, Vijay Shankar, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Jason Holder, Abhishek Sharma, B Sandeep, Sanjay Yadav, Fabian Allen, Prithvi Raj Yarra, Khaleel Ahmed, Sandeep Sharma, Shahbaz Nadeem, Siddharth Kaul, Billy Stanlake, T Natarajan, Basil Thampi.
Match No. 52: Royal Challengers Bangalore vs Sunrisers Hyderabad.