It was the great Sir Alex Ferguson who said “Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles”. The quote is relevant even when it comes to cricket. A team can have all the greatest attacking batsmen in the world, and score 200 every game, but unless it has a bowling unit that can defend the score, the team will end up losing crucial moments in the game, and hence will more than likely stumble at multiple hurdles over a tournament. The way Sunrisers Hyderabad defended even the most seemingly meagre of totals in IPL 2018 is a testament to the paramount importance of bowlers, even more so in the shortest format of the game.
Batting units, and the greats of the game will win you games singlehandedly, but replicating the performances every game over a season is a near-impossibility. Relying on the batting to drag the team out of trouble is not only an unsustainable strategy, but also one that puts immense pressure on the batsmen to perform above-par every time they go out to bat. Bowlers have always had an unglamorous, and an unthankful role to play in T20 cricket. Their performances are often overshadowed by their batting counterparts, as T20 cricket is often construed as a format which emphasises on six-hitting. If a batsman tries to hit a boundary and gets out, it is often attributed to “bad luck” and/or “need of the hour”. By the same token, if a bowler gets hit for a boundary, the criticism is infinitely more on the bowler. In such an environment where the playing conditions seldom assist them, the pressure on the bowlers is enormous, and hence arises the necessity to have bowlers who can handle such a task. In the following few paragraphs, we take a look at the players available in the squad who can shoulder the bowling burden, for a team which plays half of its games in one of the most difficult venues to bowl in world cricket, let alone the IPL.
The reliability of Southee
One bowler who made a palpable difference to RCB with his introduction last season was Tim Southee. To emphasise how crucial a cog Southee was in the RCB bowling wheel, consider this stat – In the first six games of the season, where Southee did not play, RCB conceded 170+ scores in five innings, at an economy rate of 9.68; In the following eight game, the opposition crossed the 170 mark only thrice, while the economy rate of the bowling unit drastically reduced to 8.23 per over. Southee was the missing link in the death overs. Not only did the Kiwi pacer’s presence provide the captain with a sure shot four overs, but also allowed Umesh Yadav to bowl out his overs before the death overs, where the latter’s wicket-taking ability was best put to use. This season as well, Tim Southee will be expected to be the bowling spearhead, not only by bowling his four overs well, but also being the leader of the bowling unit and an arm on the shoulder of young Indian bowlers when the going gets tough.
Breathing fire – Umesh Yadav
While Southee comes with the guarantee of being a consistent performer with the ball, Umesh Yadav complements his abilities well, by taking the mantle of an intimidator with his pace and natural ability to shape the new ball away from the right handers. In IPL 2018, his potentialities were throttled during the initial stages, as he was relied upon to bowl in the last 4 overs of the innings as well. Despite this, Umesh showcased his talents in glimpses to give an indication of how his spells could be best put to use – i.e. as a wicket-taking bowler in the powerplay and the middle overs. Umesh’s fiery spell against KXIP in the second match of the tournament, where he dismissed Mayank Agarwal and Aaron Finch off consecutive deliveries, and knocked over Yuvraj’s middle stump in the final ball of the same over, demonstrated just what he could do with the ball, if given a free hand.
The revelation – Mohammed Siraj
Mohammed Siraj will be expected to complete the pace troika, with his change ups and yorkers making him a keen ally to Tim Southee during the death overs. Siraj post IPL 2018, earned his maiden India ODI call-up, much in thanks to his exploits for India A against A-teams from Australia and South Africa, in first class games. Siraj finished the aforementioned series, with a combined wickets tally of 25 – his 14 against South Africa A was the highest for any bowler in the 2-match-series. For RCB, Siraj will offer a reliable Indian fast bowling option to partner Umesh and Southee, and shape a formidable fast bowling core.
The guile of Yuzvendra Chahal
For five years now, Chahal has been the go to bowler for RCB. Need a wicket? Chahal, need someone to stem the flow of runs? Chahal, need a spinner to bowl at the death? Chahal. Whatever be the question, Chahal is the answer. The saying one size fits all, makes an exception in case of the Haryana leggie. His journey at RCB has seen him grow from a relatively unknown bowler to a mainstay and one of the world’s best spinners. RCB are truly fortunate to have acquired the tweaker when Chahal was not a household name, and to have seen him develop into a world-beater. Once again in 2019, Chahal will be the mainstay in the bowling department, as he bamboozles his way through the opposition batting lineups. Chahal’s role will be slightly different from what he is used to with the Indian national team, and therein lies the challenge. While in the Indian setup, Chahal and Kuldeep are well used to bowling in tandem, and switching between defensive and attacking roles, depending on the match situation, at RCB Chahal pretty much flies solo in the spin department, and hence will be entrusted with a much bigger responsibility. As has always been the case, expect Chahal to rise to the occasion.
The all-rounders – Dube and Stoinis
Shivam Dube was bought at a price tag which has become somewhat of an expectancy for Indian all-rounders in the IPL. The Aussie all-rounder Stoinis has taken a different route into the RCB squad – a player trade from KXIP, which saw Mandeep Singh going the other way. Between them the duo will be expected to deliver four economical overs, with any wickets they pick being considered more of a bonus than a necessity.
The powerplay bowling looks dead set, with Umesh Yadav and Tim Southee doing most of the heavy-lifting. Siraj, and maybe even Chahal can chip in for the remaining over or two if the need arises. The middle overs is when the opposition could gain an upper hand, as RCB will look to get through the overs of the two part-timers in Dube and Stoinis; this is the phase where Chahal’s overs become crucial, while Umesh should be expected to finish off his quota during this phase. Come the death, more often than not the formula is to be boring and predictable with the bowling options. Siraj and Southee, the two bowlers who were a revelation during the second half of IPL 2018 as death bowlers, should be the two go-to options at the death. If need be, one over from Chahal can be saved up for the death.
The strength of the bowling lineup lies in the wicket-taking ability upfront, the guile of Chahal in the middle, and hopefully the death overs reliability of Southee and Siraj. The four overs from the fifth and sixth bowling options is still an apparent concern, although with smart management, the four overs could be camouflaged by spacing them out through the twenty overs. If RCB has to be a title contender in 2019, the bowling unit will need to hit the peak of its prowess on a consistent basis.