Middle-order woe rears its ugly head as RCB go home emptyhanded again

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Srinidhi Ramanujam

May 22, 2023, 11:56 AM

Season 16, (still) zero titles. Welcome to Royal Challengers Bangalore’s 2023 story. On Sunday, RCB’s hopes of making it to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive time in the IPL were crushed, after they went down to defending champions Gujarat Titans in a rain-interrupted, high-scoring game. RCB were in a must-win situation in the final group game, but Shubman Gill’s hundred trumped home favourite Virat Kohli’s ton, as the team finished sixth on the points table, below Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals.

This year, RCB scored more than 180 in nine out of 14 matches but Faf du Plessis – who has now led the team in two seasons – was quick to admit that they were “light on the middle order” when asked about where it went wrong for the team. It was a season where an all-star top-order consisting of du Plessis, Kohli and Glenn Maxwell did the heavy lifting and protected a weak middle order that was waiting to be exposed. Du Plessis hit eight fifties and accumulated 730 runs at a strike rate of 153.68 to sit at the top of the run charts. Kohli notched up back-to-back centuries in RCB’s last two games and six half-centuries before that to end up with 639 runs at a strike rate of 139.82. Maxwell’s aggressive style of play fetched him 400 runs at a strike rate of 183.48. These three alone contributed 1769 out of the 2502 runs scored by the team. The rest of the batters added just 733 runs in 14 games.

“From a batting perspective, the top four contributed really well,” du Plessis said. “Maxi (Maxwell) was unbelievable. And then Virat and myself. But we were a little bit light on the middle order, to be honest. We missed a few runs from the middle order consistently throughout the season, especially in the back end of the innings, through a bit of power-hitting.”

The failure to score and score quickly from Dinesh Karthik, Mahipal Lomror, Anuj Rawat and Shahbaz Ahmed in the middle order eventually hurt the team. Karthik endured a lean 2023 where he could muster only 140 runs in 13 matches. Lomror played ten matches and scored just 135 runs in this IPL. Rawat made 91 runs off 71 balls across seven innings.

Among the RCB batters in the middle and lower order, Karthik is the most experienced one with 7081 runs from 386 T20s at 135.28. After a standout 2022 season where he hit 330 runs at a strike rate of 183.33 in 16 games and helped RCB close out games, he was unable to replicate the success as a finisher this season. With Rajat Patidar also missing the tournament due to injury, RCB were found wanting.

Du Plessis felt that the successful teams in the IPL have “two strong hitters at five or six or six and seven to make sure the team get that impetus” at the back end of the innings, and that they need to “improve a lot” in finishing games in the back end.

Sanjay Bangar, the batting coach of RCB, conceded that the middle-order not being at their best could have had an effect on the top three; they had to be that little bit more cautious than other teams’ top three knowing that the batters to follow were not at their peak.

“It can be a factor. Once you lose a couple of wickets, if the batters are not in form… T20 is such a format that you don’t have time to work back into form,” he said. “That may have had an effect. Maybe if our lower order was going strong and converting whatever fewer balls they had, we would have gotten 10-15 runs extra or maybe the top order would have played more fearlessly. Our batting in the powerplay and middle overs were excellent but our contributions in the last five overs in most games did hurt us a bit.”

As far as the losses go, after the 81-run defeat to Kolkata Knight Riders, RCB fell short by 8 runs and 21 runs in two games and failed to defend three 190-plus totals, including the one on Sunday, where at least one of du Plessis, Kohli or Maxwell had a big knock with the rest of the batters failing to provide the support from the other end.

Bangar went on to add that even though the opportunities to the lower order were limited this season, they should have done more.

“Last season, our top order wasn’t scoring that many runs. That meant the bulk of scoring was done by the lower order in Shahbaz and Dinesh, who had a fantastic season last year,” Bangar said. “But this season the top order was batting so well, the opportunity to the lower order was limited. DK had a season which is probably below his standard, if he had clicked in a couple of games that would have meant we would have added 15-20 runs more in the games that were the crunch ones and those runs could have been the difference in winning and losing a game.

“And you have to be patient with the young players, that’s something most teams agree to and you have to invest time. Mahipal had his share of innings but he should have been a little more consistent. We will go back to the drawing board and see what kind of continuity we want to give to the players, and we will assess the season once the dust settles.”
It was a bitter disappointment for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) yet again, as their middle-order woes continued to haunt them. Despite a strong start courtesy of the mighty Indian skipper Virat Kohli, the RCB side could not build on the strong platform and quickly stumbled to a humiliating 81 run defeat at the hands of Mumbai Indians.

In an echo of their previous outings, the batting line up started strong but lost its way in the middle, all but ending any chance of coming away with a win. RCB’s top four all made double-digit runs; Virat Kohli led the charge with 39 runs, AB de Villiers did his bit and chipped in with 23 runs, followed by Gurkeerat Mann with 16 runs and then finally Shivam Dube who made 11 runs. However, the side simply could not hold it together in the middle, and quickly lost wickets in quick succession leaving them at an abysmal 99/7.

Efforts by Washington Sundar and Chris Morris in the lower middle order managed to take RCB’s total up to133/9 in the 20 overs. But it was too little too late. MI batsmen made a mockery of a relatively modest total and cruised to victory.

This is unfortunately becoming too familiar for RCB, and it must be a major cause for concern. They must address the middle-order woes that are causing these embarrassing losses. As Virat Kohli himself said after the match, “We have to find solutions in the middle to cross that line otherwise it is going to be very difficult to win games.”

RCB has clearly been struggling to find a proper balance for the top order with their middle order being far too light for the big league, and even with the addition of the new players this season the problem persists. RCB has to find a way to strengthen their middle order to get over the line.

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