#PlayBold Once Again: A Royal Challengers Bangalore Post Auction & Pre-Season Review

Virat Kohli (Image from espncricinfo.com)

Virat Kohli’s 2016 run was truly awesome to behold. (Image from espncricinfo.com)

It was a memorable, yet all too familiar IPL for RCB. After having to win all 4 of their last league games to make it to the playoffs, the side found an enormous adrenalin burst, and not only won those games, but won them big (including a 144-run trouncing of the Gujarat Lions). At the helm of this burst was Virat Kohli, who – after an already incredible run in the rest of the league stage – blasted 351 runs in those 4 games, including two centuries. After trouncing GL for a second time to make the Final, RCB fell just short of chasing down SRH’s 208, meaning that they failed to lift the cup yet again.

As it has been for many years, the crux of RCB’s problems was their bowling. Or rather, the lack of a quality spearhead bowler. Like the Rising Pune Supergiants suffered with injuries to all their best batsmen, RCB suffered with all their best bowlers. Despite possessing three of the best T20 spearheads in the world – Mitchell Starc, Adam Milne, and Samuel Badree – injuries meant that the three played a combined total of one solitary game: Adam Milne’s short feature in RCB’s tournament opener. Hence, while all of RCB’s remaining bowlers were able to pick up wickets, they were unable to exert any pressure from the onset, as a good spearhead would do.

One thing that did go for RCB, however, was their batting. Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers held firm at the helm, everyone else played around them. The result was that RCB scored above 170 on all but one occasion, and registered four 200+ scores (the other 7 franchises put together made 2). Kohli and AB aside, they possess Chris Gayle and Shane Watson, two of heavyweights of the T20 world, in addition to their stock of young talent – including Kedar Jadhav, KL Rahul, Sarfaraz Khan, Mandeep Singh and Travis Head. Hence, batting is one whole avenue RCB did not need to worry about entering the 2017 Auction.

Hence, their main goal would have been to get a quality spearhead in the auction, particularly in wake of Mitchell Starc’s dissociation from the squad. Here’s how they fared:

RCB Auction Results - Image property of IPLgeek.com

It was not a particularly active auction for RCB. Apart from the players they eventually purchased, the only players for whom they even made a bid were English all-rounder Ben Stokes, and uncapped Indian fast-bowler Mohammed Siraj. Their biggest talking point was the English seamer Tymal Mills, on whom they spent ₹12 crore.

From a purely monetary perspective, this isn’t a very smart purchase, just because of the fact that Mills is a one-dimensional player (i.e. a full-time bowler), and hence his ability to provide a contribution worthy of the sum spent on him is limited. However, consider this from RCB’s perspective: their squad was already fairly solid, with few wounds to remedy. In other words, they had very little patching up or backing up to do ahead of the 2017 season, and hence would not have to spend their money on a large number of players.

Mills, being one of the few players they really wanted to get given his calibre as a T20 spearhead bowler. Also, due to the high-scoring nature of their home ground, they needed – as Daniel Vettori put it – some[one] special. Therefore, someone like Mills would be worth splurging on. Would it have helped to get him at a cheaper price? Certainly. That extra money could have then been spent on a backup overseas all-rounder (like Chris Woakes, for example), but then again, Mills was the first priority.

The benefit to having Mills in that XI is that RCB now have a player who they can rely on for solid starts with the ball, which increases the potency of the rest of their bowling lineup. How? All of RCB’s main bowlers – Watson, Yuzvendra Chahal, Sreenath Aravind, etc. – are players who can make demons appear when the batsmen are under pressure, but can’t quite generate said pressure on their own – as shown by the fact that they all (barring Aravind) had economy rates above 8 during the 2016 season.

However, given a spearhead who can generate that pressure, they all are suddenly that much more dangerous. Consider RCB’s bowling show in 2015, for example: Mitchell Starc’s spearhead ability allowed all of RCB’s other bowlers – Chahal, Aravind, Harshal Patel and David Wiese – to build on his generated pressure and thrive. This is why Mills is so absolutely critical to RCB’s setup .

Tymal Mills (Image from wisdenindia.com)

Mills will be an integral cog for RCB in the 2017 season. (Image from wisdenindia.com)

The rest of RCB’s buys aligned with their main goal of strengthening their bowling. Rajasthan’s Aniket Choudhary, for example, offers an additional Indian fast-bowling option, while Australia and Adelaide Strikers seamer Billy Stanlake – the tallest player to represent Australia – serves as a handy backup overseas seamer, in case Adam Milne fails to regain fitness. Pawan Negi can provide some quick runs lower down the order, as well as providing an extra spinning option to partner with Yuzvendra Chahal.

While this was a quiet auction for RCB, they still did make some fairly significant purchases, purchases that could potentially make the difference as they make their tenth bid for IPL glory. Check out the playing XI dynamic for RCB:

RCB Playing XI Dynamic - Image Property of IPLgeek.com.

Note: This dynamic represents possible scenarios of my own deduction, and have no direct affiliation with the actual plans of the RCB team management.

On the whole, RCB are likely to go with a 6 man bowling attack – 4 bowlers, Negi and Watson. This means that skipper Kohli will have a decent set of options to chose from on the field. Aravind and Choudhary are most likely to make it in as the Indian seamers, but for sake of diversity Avesh Khan or Harshal Patel could be slotted in ahead of one of them. One of those spots could also be occupied by Iqbal Abdulla, should RCB see the need for the extra spinner.

It will be interesting to see of Samuel Badree gets a run in the playing XI. One of the best T20 bowlers out there, he played an integral role in the West Indies’ triumph in the 2016 World T20. Had he been available for selection during 2016, things might have been very different for Virat Kohli’s men. If RCB persist with their standard dynamic, it is unlikely that he will make it into the XI ahead of Mills. However, Chris Gayle’s poor form in the PSL suggests that there might just be an entry for him. If this is the case, Badree could come in at the expense of one of RCB’s Indian bowlers, and someone like Mandeep Singh or Sarfaraz Khan could come in to fill the batting void.

As hinted above, a lot will ride on the form of Chris Gayle. On his day he can absolutely maul his opponents into submission, but his run in the 2016 IPL was less than remarkable, with 7 single digit scores out of his 10 innings. However, just because of his sheer potential, as well as his incredible name value, it is unlikely RCB will drop him unless he has yet another awful run. If they do, though, Shane Watson will have a chance to open the innings, a position more natural to him than his regular of number 5 last year. Travis Head will also look to cash in on such an opportunity if it arises, both as a solid figure in the middle order, as well as another bowling option for Kohli. All said, however, it would do a world of good for RCB if Chris Gayle gets out there and smashes some out of the park.

Although it may not be explicit on paper, Pawan Negi will have a significant role to play in RCB’s lower order. Not only will he be expected to score runs as the last line of defense before the tail, but he will also be expected to function as a full-time left-arm spinner, contributing more overs than Stuart Binny did with his part-time medium pace. If he pulls through, it will allow RCB to walk in with 6 reliable bowlers instead of 5, which – given the nature of their home ground – could prove to make the difference in the end.

The Royal Challengers’ first game will be a “re-enactment” of sorts of the 2016 Final, as they take on the Sunrisers Hyderabad in the tournament opener on April 5th.