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Desperation time – RR vs RCB preview

A royal battle, that hardly feels like one. Three games, three losses. If you thought that was the case with Bangalore, the same statement can be applied to Rajasthan too. One of the two teams will finally have a point in the ‘W’ column, at the end of the day. While Rajasthan lost a close-fought contest to Chennai in their previous game, and have managed to remain competitive in all three despite three losses, that has not been the case at all with RCB this season. 

Twice in the first three games, the much-fabled RCB batting boasting of possibly two best batsmen of the modern era, has not even managed to bat out 20 overs. The other game where both AB De Villiers and Virat Kohli scored runs, RCB still somehow managed to lose, after being in the driver’s seat with four overs remaining. While the batting has failed miserably so far, the bowling has looked toothless too, in the absence of an overseas bowler. Umesh in the first three games has not found his mojo, and the lack of wicket-taking options in the powerplay is starting to hurt the subsequent phases of the innings. Death bowling has always been an issue for RCB, and it feels quite baffling how Tim Southee has not yet managed to find a place in the playing eleven, given his introduction somewhat solved the issue towards the latter part of last season. 

One more defeat would mean the losing team will need eight wins out of their remaining ten games to entertain any play-off hopes, which given the uncertainty of the T20 format, would appear to be a near-impossible task to accomplish.

Recent head to head results

In the final league game of the season for RCB last year, a win would’ve taken the team through to the playoffs thanks to their superior NRR. Instead, the batting capitulated at this very venue, as RCB handed the playoff spot to today’s opponent’s Rajasthan Royals. It was spin that did most of the damage that day, as the Karnataka duo of Shreyas Gopal and K Gowtham, along with Ish Sodhi picked up all the wickets of RCB’s top 6. In the earlier game in the season, RR overcame RCB by 20 runs on the back of Sanju Samson’s magical 45-ball 92.

Expected lineups – 

Marcus Stoinis’ arrival from international duty, is a much-needed one, and will likely find a place straight in the lineup, which would mean either one of Moeen Ali or Colin De Grandhomme will have to make way. That should not be the only expected change though, as the bowling looked insipid in the loss to the Sunrisers. Expect either of Tim Southee or Nathan Coulter-Nile, to find a spot in the playing eleven. Navdeep Saini, who was impressive in the first two games should make a comeback in the place of Prayas Ray Barman.

RCB : Parthiv Patel, Virat Kohli, Akshdeep Nath, AB De Villiers, Shimron Hetmyer, Marcus Stoinis, Shivam Dube, Tim Southee, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Yuzvendra Chahal

RR : Ajinkya Rahane, Jos Buttler, Sanju Samson, Rahul Tripathi, Ben Stokes, Manan Vohra, K Gowtham, Shreyas Gopal, Jofra Archer, Oshane Thomas, Dhawal Kulkarni

Strengths and weaknesses – RCB

While there were hardly any positives from the previous game against Sunrisers, RCB should take a look at their performance against MI for inspiration – a game which RCB should have won. For 16 overs in either innings of the game against MI, RCB were well ahead. In the last three overs at the death while bowling, RCB conceded 40 runs, while they only managed to score 34 in the last four during their turn to bat. 

One major positive in the batting department for RCB in that game was the way AB De Villiers and Virat Kohli controlled the middle overs to place the team in a commanding position, going into the last four overs. If not for Yuzvendra Chahal’s intent to pick wickets during the middle overs of the game, RCB could well have conceded more than 200 in that game. Chahal’s 4 wickets during the middle overs, slowed down MI’s scoring rate considerably, and a similar performance will be required again from the leggie, if RCB are to entertain any hopes of winning.

The batting lineup still does not look settled, and three different opening combinations in three games, certainly does not inspire any confidence. With Stoinis’ arrrival, RCB will need to quickly figure out their best eleven based on specific roles for players, and stick to it, even if the going gets tough. RCB have only managed to pick up one wicket in eighteen powerplay overs, which is not a great sign either. A bowling unit which looks extremely one-dimensional certainly needs an overhaul, and the inclusion of either Tim Southee or Coulter-Nile would be a good place to start.

Opposition analysis – RR

Rajasthan Royals, unlike RCB have played competitive cricket despite losing their first three, and have been unlucky. Their margins of defeat have been very thin, and but for a moment here or there, could have easily had a couple of wins on the board by now. Their achilles heel, has been their bowling, having conceded 175+ scores in all the three matches. Four Indian bowlers, none regulars on the international scene, is hardly an inspiring lineup. 

While their bowling has let them down, RR’s batting lineup has been very solid with contributions from every player. Be it In the first game where Jos Buttler was the key protagonist, Sanju Samson scored the first century of the season in their second game. When their top order failed to contribute, RR still managed to take the game deep against CSK, with contributions late in the batting order by Ben Stokes, Rahul Tripathi and Jofra Archer. 

Key player battles – 

Jos Buttler vs Yuzvendra Chahal

Jos Buttler is certainly the most destructive batsman in RR’s lineup. Rajasthan’s batting is structured in a way that Buttler’s dynamism allows the other touch players in their top 4 – Rahane, Samson and Steve Smith, to bide their time before taking off. If RCB manage to snare away Buttler early, it could give them a chance to restrict RR to a reasonable score. Fail to achieve that, and RCB could well have to brace themselves to another trial by fire during the middle overs. RCB’s most potent weapon has been Chahal, and it would not be too radical to even use up two of his overs inside the powerplay, in a quest to dismiss Buttler.

Kohli vs Archer

RCB’s top order which dons an uncertain look has been a huge cause for concern. While Parthiv is expected to fulfil a specific role of scoring quickly in the powerplays, his influence on the innings post the first 6 is very minimal. RCB have tried Moeen Ali and Shimron Hetmyer as a part of the top 3, and neither have managed to nail down their place at the top. With a misfiring top three becoming a recurring theme, the onus will be on Virat once again to carry the innings through. With all due respect to the rest of the RR bowling, Jofra Archer seems to be the only genuine wicket-taking option who could unsettle batsmen with genuine pace and bounce. If Kohli manages to survive through his first two overs, RCB can well be on  their way to a reasonable score. Virat batting through the innings, would also allow the more flamboyant players in the lineup in De Villiers and Hetmyer to inflict a greater degree of damage on RR.

In Conclusion..

Neither the batting or bowling for RCB has found any consistent form in the first three games. Lack of wickets by the bowlers in the powerplay has hurt the team during the middle and death overs, and certainly is an area that the team management will be looking to address. The batting order still does not look settled, and the major task on RCB’s hand will be to discover an order which will bring the best out of the resources available. Rajasthan on the other hand, have put up solid batting performances, but their bowling wears a weak outlook, with Archer being the only wicket-taking weapon.

With both the teams desperately needing a win, expect a high-quality game, which could well go down to the wire.