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An opening day drubbing – 5 talking points from a night to forget

Poor game awareness

Yes, it was a difficult track to bat on – extremely difficult. The boundaries were hard to come by, Harbhajan was turning the ball square, and the track assisted in keeping the ball slow and low.

Having said that, it was disappointing to see the lack of in-game assessment from the players in the top order. If Harbhajan was the chief tormentor from one end, we should not forget it was Deepak Chahar who was bowling from the other – someone the RCB top order should’ve done better against. To emphasise the poor nature of the approach, Virat and Parthiv played out 9 dot balls in Chahar’s first two overs – totally unacceptable against a seamer on a track where scoring was not going to be free-flowing against the spinners. The dismissal of Virat Kohli itself, was less due to a batting error or a piece of bowling genius, and more owing to the pressure created by lack of strike rotation. This is a track where the senior/international players in the team should have lead by example, and perhaps realised that this was not a 160+ track, and hence should have adapted their game-plan accordingly.

Did we get the batting order right?

The importance of a no.6 in a T20 team is often under-appreciated. In our pre-tournament previews, we discussed extensively about this. In short, having a no.6 who can anchor the innings, allows the players above him to play with a degree of freedom. In case of a collapse, like was the case today, there will be an experienced hand who can reassess the balance of the game, and take the best route forward. The game today showed exactly why. All the big guns and the experienced hands were played, and RCB had Shivam Dube on his debut, and Colin De Grandhomme who is a finisher playing in an unfamiliar scenario. Imagine a situation where Parthiv with a Moeen Ali batting at no.6, had anchored the innings at a run-a-ball till the 15th over. This could have possibly allowed the finishers in the lineup to put the CSK bowlers under pressure in the last five overs. Certainly, a score of around 125 – 130 would have given the bowlers a fighting chance on a diabolical playing surface. A small change could have possibly made a big difference.

Lack of team chemistry 

One thing that CSK have done well over the years has been keeping their core together. It means that every player understands their role like the back of their hands. With RCB, the batting order was reshuffled from previous season, and there were two new players in the top 6. When that happens, the pressure is greater on the players to possibly adjust their mindset to know what is expected off each of them. Do they score quickly? Can they afford to take time? If the scoring rate is low by the end of the powerplay, can they trust their middle order to take the team to an above-par score? All these are questions that would have been running through the minds of the top three, while facing a daunting task of playing a CSK team in conditions of utmost familiarity to them. The runout of Shimron Hetmyer was a prime example of the necessity of developing team chemistry. The run out would not have happened, if the nerves were calmer, and that could only happen in an atmosphere that is familiar to you.

A rare positive – the powerplay bowling

On a night where there was hardly anything to cheer about, there was one obvious positive. Yes, the track assisted spinners, but one must have the quality to take advantage of it. We seldom see Chahal being used in the powerplay, and in this game perhaps it was out of desperation for wickets that we got to watch him bowl three overs inside the first six. What was impressive was that Chahal showed that he possesses the mindset required to bowl with fielding restrictions. Chahal is used to bowling with five fielders outside the 30-yard circle, and uses his variations, and the pressure created by virtue of the game situation, to lure the batsman into false shots. In this game, he had to perform a different function, and seeing him do that with competence augurs well for future games where the team might encounter similar conditions. 

The first sights of Navdeep Saini, the 26-year old quick from Delhi, steaming in and clocking 140 KPH with consistency was one to behold. Saini hitting Watson on the helmet, brought back memories of the famous Watson V Wahab battle in the 2015 world cup quarter-final at Sydney. Saini despite his raw approach, looks a serious prospect, and could prove to be an asset in a bowing unit which looked short on wicket-taking bowlers apart from Umesh Yadav before the start of the season. Even more so, on a Bangalore pitch which will provide him with more assistance than the Chennai turner.

The team combination

Ask any expert, and they will tell you that finding your team’s best combination early in the tournament is the key to a team’s top-4 hopes. Apart from a tweak or two, the lineup had everything. Class at the top, reliable batting options apart from Virat and AB De Villiers, big-hitters down the order, and seven bowling options. Perhaps, one could make a case for the inclusion of a Tim Southee, and a slight reshuffle in the batting order, but the rest of the team looks bang on. Unlike the previous two years where it took almost half a season to find the right combination, this team already seems to have their best playing eleven figured out.

In conclusion…

It might have been a performance reminiscent of the previous season, but there is a lot to look forward to. Perhaps it was the nerves, perhaps the overzealousness which was apparent in the batting, or just a bit of greenness early in the tournament. The game was pretty much over in the first ten overs, when the team lost 5 wickets, a feat which we hope will never be repeated again. Facing a CSK team in their own den was always going to be an uphill task, made impossible by the playing conditions. Despite a seemingly crushing defeat, the team should not be tinkered with except for a change or two, if the players are to develop an understanding playing together. Remember, it is a marathon, not a sprint, and the way the team reacts to this defeat over the next few weeks will tell us a whether lessons have been learnt from previous two seasons or not. A disappointing result, but not all is lost.