One of the tragedies of the T20 game, in how it is sold and presented, is how it encourages a lack of intellect around it. The world over it is seen as the least-serious format – something that’s not worth burning brain cells over. While Test or ODI teams are discussed ad nausea, T20 is still seen as little more than hits and giggles, even deep into its second decade. At least, that seems to be the case outside of its direct practitioners. The problem with the scenario is that the narrative surrounding T20 leagues becomes cliched.
In leagues across the world, there’s always the young team wanting to make a mark, then there’s the star-studded team that disappoints mostly due to a lack of motivation, and invariably there’s the old team which uses its experience to overachieve. Think of the 2016 BBL winning Sydney Thunders, which had three 40 year olds and an average age in excess of 31 – and you’ll find a template worth keeping an eye on.
But beyond all this, with a decade of sample size available, it’s perhaps time to Americanise the coverage of the sports.
The questions thus have to be asked that might only get asked in American sports – what is the value of an individual player, and how important is the identity of the team? The first of those is the central core of moneyball, the second is one asked only when a team underachieves. In both cases, as far as T20 is concerned, no team is more fascinating than the Royal Challengers Bangalore.
In four of the past five seasons of the IPL, RCB have had the best run rate across all teams in the regular season. Of course they’re helped by the fact that the Chinnaswamy is exceptionally batsmen-friendly, even in a league that is overwhelmingly titled towards batsmen. But still their batting numbers ought to make them one of the better sides, right? Well, in three of these five seasons, RCB failed to make it to the playoffs, and never won the trophy.
That is because they are ideologically skewed towards one discipline. They certainly have an identity – and it is of a team that believes it’s batsmen can blow away anyone, anywhere. And that’s not without evidence.
They boast the greatest T20 franchise player ever (Chris Gayle), the greatest all-format player of his generation (AB de Villiers), his successor for that role (Virat Kohli) and the only multiple time winner of the IPL MVP Award (Shane Watson) as part of their spine.
But three of those four are pure batsmen, and even the fourth will never be considered as good a bowler as he’s a batsman. And around these four, and usually one foreign bowler, is the team built.
The composition of the team, thus, is a gamble. With seven Indian players in each XI, and eight teams in the league, the least number of active Indians in the IPL is 56. With the size of the squads, that number ends up close to triple figures.
In a country that has always had a surfeit of quality batsmen and spinners, you would think that the highest value to be gained would be from foreign and high-quality local pacers. RCB, though, have avoided that – beyond the lone big money signing (Mitchell Starc/Chris Jordan/Tymal Mills), and believed that having all time greats in their batting order would be enough.
It has never been enough.
As RCB have solidified their dominance of the batting numbers, questions have arisen over how valuable those actually are. Not only have the teams with the best run rates in each of the past five IPL seasons never won the trophy, but none of the teams with the second best run rates have won it either.
Meanwhile, three of the past five champions had the best economy numbers across the regular season. A fourth (CSK in 2015) topped the bowling numbers and the league standings, before failing in the final against the Mumbai Indians.
All evidence, contrary to what RCB might believe, points towards the best bowling sides being the most successful. In a format that minimises the difference between the good and the great when it comes to batting, ends up being decided by the overlooked discipline.
In football, they say it’s the defense that wins you championships and the same is true of cricket. The defensive discipline, bowling, is invariably what decides these tournaments, particularly when it’s squeaky bum time.
And that is why the performance of Samuel Badree against Mumbai could be the catalyst for the change in fortunes for RCB. Badree, who despite being one of the most successful T20 international bowlers, has never found a home in the IPL. In four seasons, across three teams, he just has six matches to his name, but his performance against Mumbai has opened the doors for permutations that RCB can play with.
With him, Mills and Yuzvendra Chahal together, RCB can actually have 12 overs of quality bowling. With de Villiers a certainty, the question then becomes whether the team goes with Gayle or Watson, or even punts with somebody like Stanlake in the team.
Continuing with Gayle means that there will still be eight overs worth hitting from RCB, even on good days, and they can compensate for that as they always have – by hoping they out-bat the opposition. Going with somebody like Milne or Stanlake would mean abandoning all that has come before, and finally becoming a bowling heavy team. While Watson represents the sweet spot between these two schools of thought.
RCB already know that it’s the bowling that wins you tournaments. The question now is, are they willing to change; or do they still believe that their stubbornness will change history and our understanding of the T20 game. They’ve got a month to find that out.
The hosts won the toss and elected to bowl first up.
You can follow every ball of the action with our in-play scorecard, commentary, and stats below.
Two teams that are desperate for a win will face off at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Sunday as the Royal Challengers host the Rising Pune Supergiant.
Both franchises have just two points on the board so far and will be eager to climb up the table.
This match will see Virat Kohli up against Steve Smith – the two captains from the bitterly fought series between India and Australia recently and that should make for some interesting viewing.
Ahead of the match, we have the latest team news, time and date, as well as how you can watch all the action from the UAE.
DATE, TIME, VENUE INFO
Date: April 16, 2017 (Sunday)
Time: 18:30 GST, 20:00 local time (IST), 14:30 GMT
Venue: M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru
WHERE TO WATCH, LIVE STREAMING INFO
TV: UAE – OSN Sports Cricket HD, India – Sony Six, Sony Six HD (English), Sony Max, Sony Max HD 3 (Hindi), UK – Sky Sports
Online streaming: hotstar.com, Hotstar app (in India only)
TEAM NEWS, SQUADS, PREDICTED XIs
RCB SQUAD: Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, Shane Watson, Yuzvendra Chahal, Harshal Patel, Mandeep Singh, Adam Milne, Sreenath Aravind, Kedar Jadhav, Stuart Binny, Samuel Badree, Travis Head, Sachin Baby, Iqbal Abdullah, Avesh Khan, Tabraiz Shamsi, Pawan Negi, Tymal Mills, Aniket Choudhary, Praveen Dubey, Billy Stanlake, Vishnu Vinod.
Chris Gayle’s form is a big concern for the Royal Challengers which might tempt them to bring Shane Watson back into the team.
If Watson does return, it’ll be interesting to see if Kohli chooses the Australian or Mandeep Singh as his opening partner.
The inclusion of Watson could also lead to the Bengaluru-based team dropping one of Pawan Negi or Stuart Binny for a specialist batsman.
PREDICTED RCB XI: Kohli (c), Watson, de Villiers, Jadhav, Mandeep, Negi, Binny, Aravind, Badree, Chahal, Mills.
RPS SQUAD: MS Dhoni, Ajinkya Rahane, Steve Smith, Faf du Plessis, Ashok Dinda, Ankush Bains, Rajat Bhatia, Ankit Sharma, Ishwar Pandey, Adam Zampa, Jaskaran Singh, Baba Aparajith, Deepak Chahar, Usman Khawaja, Mayank Agarwal, Ben Stokes, Jaydev Unadkat, Rahul Chahar, Saurabh Kumar, Dan Christian, Milind Tandon, Rahul Tripathi, Manoj Tiwary, Lockie Ferguson, Shardul Thakur, Imran Tahir.
There are big worries for the Pune-based franchise when it comes to the composition of the team and how they balance out their four foreign players.
Du Plessis has played just one game in the IPL so far this season and could feature in this match, but if he does play, that might lead to Pune playing just five bowlers in their XI which is a risky ploy.
To avoid that, there is a chance that either Dan Christian or Rajat Bhatia could make the XI.
PREDICTED RPS XI: Rahane, Tripathi, Smith (c), du Plessis, Tiwary, Stokes, Dhoni (wk), Thakur, Pandey, R Chahar, Tahir.
(Last five matches – with latest match first)
RCB: L L W L L
RPS: L L L W W
The Royal Challengers to get back on track with a win.