“We need to stay optimistic, not too many changes to be made to the side.”
This is what Royal Challengers Bangalore skipper Virat Kohli had said in the post-match press conference after their crushing loss to Sunrisers Hyderabad by 118 runs. However, in the very next game against the Rajasthan Royals, we saw him making three changes to the team.
Marcus Stoinis, Akshdeep Nath and Navdeep Saini were included at the expense of Colin de Grandhomme, Shivam Dube and Prayas Ray Barman.
Some changes were obviously expected in the team as a couple of international players had joined the squad after wrapping up their international commitments but his very statement, which was completely in contrast with his actions, gave a hint of the skipper’s muddled thinking.
Too Many Changes
The changes, however, didn’t bring about any positive result for the side anyway. RCB lost their fourth match on the trot after Rajasthan Royals overhauled their total of 158 comfortably.
Akshdeep Nath, Dube’s replacement, wasn't even used with the bat and Navdeep Saini didn’t prove to be anything better than Barman. In fact, this match was one in which Barman could have been very helpful as the other leg-spinners Shreyas Gopal and Yuzvendra Chahal dominated with their performances. The track was offering enough grip and turn to them. The pitch was dry and yet, Kohli chose to go with a lone specialist spinner in Chahal, backed by the part-time off-spin of Moeen Ali.
This summed up how wrong he and the management have been with their team selections. The same thing had been noticed in their tournament opener against Chennai at Chepauk as well. The Royal Challengers completely misread the pitch and results were disastrous.
"“This tournament is not that long. You have to be on the eight ball. You have to think on your feet. You have to think of the best possible combination going forward. We will definitely sit down and consider talking about what we can do. Hopefully get some fresh guys in.”" - Virat Kohli, RCB Captain, after losing to RR
While bringing fresh faces into the side is definitely a good thing when things aren’t going well, it is also necessary to ensure that the changes made and the combinations picked are logical as well.
Stoinis’ inclusion against Rajasthan was an expected one looking at the balance he offers to the side owing to his all-round ability. Moreover, Grandhomme shouldn’t have played three matches on the trot in first hand considering he wasn’t providing any sort of bite or penetrating ability to the pace bowling department.
Tim Southee is the one who should have played each of these four matches considering the experience he offers to their otherwise inexperienced and misfiring pace bowling department. Another good pace bowling option in Nathan Coulter-Nile, who had just joined the squad after completing his national duty for Australia, and was available for the match against Royals. He could have been included alongside Stoinis at the expense of either Moeen Ali or Shimron Hetmyer. But that didn’t happen either. Instead, they chose to drop young players like Dube and Barman who didn’t even get the chance to showcase their skills and talent properly.
No Confidence in Local Youth?
Dube returned with scores of 2, 9* and 5 in the three matches he played. Although the scores don’t seem great, it has to be considered that he walked out to bat in tough situations in all three games. Bangalore were 4 down for 39 and 30 runs respectively when he walked out to bat in two of those matches, and the other time, he hit a massive six off the first ball of the last over bowled by Lasith Malinga to bring the equation of runs down. Unfortunately, results didn’t go in favour of Bangalore in that match too. Moreover, he wasn’t even used with the ball at all despite the fact that other bowlers got thrashed by the opposition batsmen in all three games.
16-year-old Prayas Ray Barman was smashed all around the park by the likes of David Warner and Jonny Bairstow in his debut match. However, none of the other bowlers also caused any trouble to the duo. So, expecting Barman to get the better of the two was always going to prove too much.
Both Dube and Barman are young players who don’t have big match experience. So, the team management should look to back their abilities. Dropping them after one or two matches won’t help in any way.
No Time to Settle Down
In fact, the problem has not only been limited to wrong combinations and changes. It has a lot to do with unsettled roles in the side as well. We have seen three different opening combinations in the four matches so far. While Kohli has opened alongside Parthiv Patel in two matches, Ali and Hetmyer also started on top with Patel in one match each.
It’s true that teams have only 14 matches each in the league and changes have to be made quickly in order to get results. But you need to give enough time to the players to settle down into their roles as well. Changing their role in every match isn’t going to help. That is the reason why most of the players have underperformed big time.
There have been issues with Kohli’s on-field captaincy too. He isn’t a very astute tactician and that could be understood from his field placements and the bowling changes he makes during matches.
One such example could be cited from the match against the Royals. Yuzvendra Chahal had been brought in to the attack much later and he delivered with the wicket of Jos Buttler, who had already raced away to 59 runs by then. Buttler’s struggles against wrist-spin of late aren’t something unknown to performance analysts doing their jobs behind the curtains. This must have been discussed time and again during team meetings.
Buttler has been dismissed a total of seven times by leg spinners in IPL at an interval of every 12 balls. His average of 16 is also quite low against them. Sunrisers’ skipper Kane Williamson employed this tactic successfully by pitting Rashid Khan against Buttler in the powerplay a couple of matches ago. That should have been a lesson on how to handle him but we saw no such thing being tried by Kohli in this match, which in turn allowed Buttler to get away.
In fact, Kohli has the lowest win percentage (45) for a player who has played at least 50 matches as captain in the IPL.
So, this particular statistic reveals a lot about his abilities as a leader. He has had world class players like AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle, Shane Watson and others over the years in his team. 2016 was a standout year for him in IPL, both as a batsman and as a captain, as he led his team into the final. But apart from that, his performances and leadership have mostly been mediocre.
He cannot be blamed alone though. The management has to be blamed too. All of them are involved in the decision-making together. The pressure can now be seen in his performances too. He didn’t seem to be at his best during the last match against Rajasthan. He seemed a little bit shaky, worried and concerned while batting. He didn’t seem to be his usual confident self. Things may not be right for him and Bangalore now, but it’s not late. Things can still be turned around with 10 more matches to go. But for that to happen, he needs to make the right moves first, sensibly and logically.
(Prasenjit Dey is a freelance cricket writer. He can be reached at @CricPrasen. The opinions expressed are the author’s own and The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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