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The Matchwinners – Who will be the key to RCB’s playoff hopes?

Matchwinners – the breed of cricketers that every team craves. The ones who can make a difference on their own. The ones that can turn games in their side’s favour within a matter of overs. These are the players who can take the team over the line, when the rest of the team has had an off day. They can uplift the morale of a team and its fortunes just by their mere presence. 

In a shortened format like T20, where every ball can be a potential match-turning one, the impact of match winners becomes ever so more exaggerated. Despite cricket being a team game, such players will win you an occasional game, which will all add up at the end of the season, and could be the decisive factor in a team making it to the play-off’s and finishing outside the top 4.

Their impact cannot be measured by barely looking at the currently employed statistical tools. It can be a short innings of 10 balls which switches the momentum of the game, or it could be a fiery spell of only a couple of overs that instills fear in the opposition batsmen. Remember the innings Colin De Grandhomme played against Mumbai Indians at the Chinnaswamy last season? That 10-ball 23 which included 3 sixers off his fellow countryman McClenaghan in the final over, in retrospect turned out to be the difference between the sides, in a game which was won by only 14 runs.

Over the years, the Bangalore faithful have been privy to many such impact players. Chris Gayle with his dreadlocks, walking out to bat like a gladiator in front of a 40,000 strong Chinnaswamy, slaying the opposition bowlers with his gigantic hitting ability. One of the best batsmen of all time, AB De Villiers subjecting one of the most-feared bowlers of the time Dale Steyn to the sword, twice, both in successful run-chases! In the following paragraphs, we will look at the players in this year’s squad who possess the necessary ability to deliver game-defining performances and hopefully at the end of the season, push the team closer to the title.

Virat Kohli – What exactly is his significance in the RCB batting lineup?

Virat Kohli might not look like your typical six-hitting T20 batsman, but has created a niche for himself despite a more traditional approach to batting. Virat often assumes the role of a sheet-anchor, but can also turn on the heat when needed. Stylistically, though he takes a more classical route, but at the end of the day, he has the ability to score runs at a quicker pace than most of the celebrated T20 specialists. Hey, there’s more than one way to bell a cat. 

But, what makes him a standout choice in this RCB lineup which boasts the likes of AB De Villiers, Shimron Hetmyer, Marcus Stoinis and the new entrant Shivam Dube, who are all strong hitters of the ball? The answer is simple, his ability to bat in different situations, and handle all of them equally competitively. Eventually, handling different scenarios in a game comes down to one simple and often ignored factor in T20s – skill. Among all the modern-day greats, Virat ranks at the very top in this aspect. In a lineup where Virat will be the only batsman to have represented India at the international level in the past year, his presence becomes even more critical. Looking at the composition of the team, and the options available in the squad, it looks highly probable that Virat will be opening the innings. Combine the two factors, and his significance to the team will be even more pronounced.

Shimron Hetmyer – The new face of fear?

Highest run scorer for his team, highest strike rate for his team(minimum 100 runs), the best average among all the batsmen in the team, Shimron Hetmyer was all the three put into one in the Caribbean Premier league 2018 for Guyana Amazon Warriors. Hetmyer’s selection brings in not only a clean striker of the cricket ball in the middle order, but also a left hander, to maintain a right-left combination during the middle overs – something which was missing in 2018 for RCB. Hetmyer’s rise to prominence and him being a familiar face in the Indian cricket viewing demographic, was down to his splendid performances during the Windies’ tour of India in 2018 – a tournament in which he amassed 159 runs, while scoring at 140 runs per 100 balls. His ability to clear the boundary with consummate ease, against the spin duo of  Chahal and Kuldeep, was a trait which would have caught the eye of every franchise, as reflected by his price tag following a bidding war. 

In the recent ODI series against England in the Caribbean, Hetmyer scored an impressive 104(83) in the second ODI, an innings which essentially carried the Windies’ batting amidst a mini collapse. Hetmyer’s century was the difference between what would have been a 230 score to one that turned out to be a match-winning 289. That innings showed that Hetmyer has a cool head on his shoulders, even at a tender age of 22. In the RCB setup, with all the focus being on the world class duo of AB De Villiers and Virat Kohli, Shimron Hetmyer might just prove to be the extra enforcer, who will take the RCB batting quality up a notch.

Umesh Yadav – Can RCB manage to make the most of his overs?

We have talked about two batsman, so it is only fair to shift focus onto the bowlers for the final section of the article. Despite all the criticism received by the bowling unit last season, there were a few positives which indicated that it was not all that bad. During the second half of the season, the inclusion of Tim Southee, and the reinvention of Mohammed Siraj with the former as his death overs mentor reinvigorated RCB’s campaign, and aided RCB to retain qualification hopes until the last day of the group phase.While Southee’s introduction breathed fresh air into the death bowling, it also freed up Umesh Yadav to finish his quota of overs before the death overs which wasn’t really his forte. 

Umesh is one such bowler who if given the freedom to pick wickets, without worrying about the economy rate, can dent the opposition batting by doing exactly that. When there’s such a resource on your books, it would be in the best interests of the team that his attributes are complemented. In simpler words, use Umesh the way that he is supposed to be – as a wicket-taking, fear-inducing matchwinner. The success Yuzvendra Chahal has enjoyed in the Indian setup has been due to the bowling partnership he has formed with Kuldeep Yadav. The two complement each other very well. Bowling in tandem, they bottleneck the opposition batsmen into making mistakes, as there are no easy runs on offer, and any attempt at scoring quickly comes with a risk factor. Using Yadav during the middle overs in a role similar to what Kuldeep does for India, i.e be an aggressive wicket-taking option, can increase the effectiveness of Chahal as well. Using Umesh as a pure wicket-taking asset, will also ease the pressure on the death bowlers, as they will not often have to bowl at two set batsmen, if Umesh succeeds in his role. All things considered, Umesh Yadav could very well be the impact bowler, and if used properly can decide RCB’s fortunes in the coming season.