Midway through most IPL seasons, at least for the last few years, Twitter is generally flooded with fans of Royal Challengers Bangalore chalking out the rest of the season as to how their team can still make it to the playoffs. Last season, they had managed just one win in their first seven games and two in the previous three. Since 2014, RCB have not won more than three games in their first half of an IPL campaign. But on a year that is 2020, IPL has witnessed a different RCB side, a more settled team with specific roles assigned to the players, all that has led to the team winning five out of their first seven games as many as defending champions Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals - to stand third in the points table only separated by net run rate. And five of those wins included victories against - former IPL winners Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians and Sunrisers Hyderabad - all of whom have enjoyed overwhelming domination over RCB in previous meetings. So what has clicked for RCB this season?
AB offering balance
It was before the start of this season when RCB's Twitter handle had teased the idea of AB de Villiers taking up the role of a wicketkeeper for the season with the picture of the veteran cricketer donning the wicketkeeping gloves during a practice session. He hadn't donned the gloves for RCB since 2013. Head coach Simon Katich too did not give away much when being asked about the same in a pre-season presser, but RCB eventually picked young Josh Philippe as their wicketkeeper, while making him bat in the middle-order. Philippe is primarily an opener, who amassed 508 runs for Sydney Sixers as their opener in 16 innings at a strike rate of 139.2. But he was made to bat at No.3 in the first game and No.6 in the next before De Villiers was eventually handed the responsibility. This allowed RCB to use that extra overseas slot to bring in Adam Zampa for a few games before Chris Morris.
De Villiers' presence as a wicketkeeper also allowed Devdutt Padikkal to remain as RCB's opener, one who truly been a revelation this season. He has scored 243 runs for RCB this season at an average of 34.7 and with three half-centuries, besides having a decent powerplay strike rate of 130.7.
Washington Sundar as a powerplay option
Sundar as a powerplay specialist back in 2017 when he was part of Rising Pune Supergiants, the year he made his debut in the tournament. He had picked four wickets in 18 overs that season during that phase at an economy rate of 6.56. But on shifting base to RCB, he bowled only seven overs during the powerplays across two seasons, conceding 86 runs at 12.28 an economy rate. At the start of the 13th edition, he bowled only three overs, none in the powerplays.
But in the game against Mumbai Indians at Dubai, where 406 runs were scored between two teams, Sundar, for the first-time was used solely as a powerplay bowler. He returned with figures of 1 for 12 in four overs with 13 dot balls. Overall, he has bowled 11 overs in the powerplay this season, picking three wickets at an economy rate of just 4.55.
"Releasing the ball late is the key. If you follow the feet of a batsman, then you will get a slight hint about what he intends to do. And if you can pick up the hint, it's going to help you do what he doesn't want you to do,” Sundar said on the eve of RCB’s match against Kings XI Punjab.
"I am very conscious about releasing the ball as late as possible. That way I can react to what the batsman is doing," he added.
Yuzvendra Chahal the middle-over enforcer
In the last three seasons, Chahal has bowled 27.3, 32, 29 overs between 7 and 15 in IPL matches for RCB. But this season, there has been an increased use of Chahal in the phase, having already bowled 20 overs in seven innings, picking five wickets at an economy rate of 5.95 - the best he has managed in any of his previous IPL seasons and only behind Axar Patel (5.50) and Rashid Khan (5.11). Chahal's domination in the middle overs has also helped RCB to apply brakes on oppositions during chases leaving them more to pull off in the final five overs.
Tactical use of resources as per conditions and with match-ups
Kohli has often been put behind his T20 counterparts in terms of tactical abilities as a captain, but IPL 2020 has witnessed a new Kohli, who paid more attention to the conditions as per previous matches, dew factor, slowness of the pitch and gave more priority to the match-ups. And this was epitomised in RCB's clinical 82-run win against Kolkata Knight Riders at Sharjah.
At the high-scoring venue, Kohli opted to bat first with the notion that the pitch was going to turn slower by the hour making it difficult for the oppoistion to chase. Dinesh Karthik was, however "happy to have lost the toss." Kohli also picked an extra bowler as against Karthik who went in for an extra batsman. RCB scored 194 runs fr the loss of two wickets, courtesy a de Villiers' classic. KKR succumbed during the chase falling 94-runs short of the mark, courtesy of an excellent eight overs of spin on a slowish Sharjah track where the combination of Sundar and Chahal conceded just 32 runs with 21 dot balls.
During the chase, Sundar bowled just one over in the powerplays, as against three at this very venue against Mumbai where he returned with eight dot balls while conceding eight runs. Kohli had held back Sundar in a bid to gain an advantage against left-handers Nitish Rana and Eoin Morgan. Sundar dismissed them both. Rana managed just two runs off five balls while Morgan failed to get off the mark in the two deliveries he faced against Sundar.
In a bid to gain an advantage, Kohli had used Chahal in the powerplay against Rajasthan Royals and he dismissed his man, Sanju Samson. Kohli had even held him back in the CSK game for taking on MS Dhoni, who has long struggled against leggies and Chahal emerged victoriously again.
Chris Morris solves death over woes
RCB bowlers at death in IPL 2020...
RCB's death-over woes had continued through IPL 2020 with the team conceding over 13 runs in the first four games. The absence of Morris had hurt RCB through the early games. Isuru Udana was picked solely for solving the death-over troubles by dropping Dale Steyn, but he conceded at 9.12 runs an over in eight overs he bowled in that phase. Morris eventually returned for the last two games, bowled three overs during that phase and conceded only 16 runs while picking four wickets.