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Analysis

What RCB did right after it began so horribly wrong

After losing seven of their first eight games, RCB are on the brink of achieving something remarkable. Here's how they did it

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
17-May-2024
Cameron Green is congratulated by his team-mates for the Tristan Stubbs run out, Royal Challengers Bengaluru vs Delhi Capitals, IPL 2024, Bengaluru, May 12, 2024

RCB: alive and fighting for longer than most thought they would this season  •  BCCI

Are Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB) on to something?
Parallels are being drawn to the summer of 2016, when they made the IPL final after languishing near the bottom of the points table for the first half of the season. From two wins in their first seven matches, they had an inspired run of six victories in their next seven matches to finish in the top two. They were eventually runners-up to Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH).
RCB's start was worse this season. Seven losses in eight games left them rock bottom, and they had to win all their remaining matches to have a chance of finishing in the top four. They have won five in a row, and had several other results go their way, to keep them in the race, and now they just need to win one more. By a certain margin, though against Chennai Super Kings (CSK), weather permitting.
RCB's resurgence has been led by their batters, and the upswing has coincided with them finally hitting upon an effective bowling combination. Since scoring 262 for 7 in a chase of 288 against SRH, RCB's run rate of 11.37 in their next seven games is the best in the league and a massive improvement over the 8.94 in their first six games.

Kohli on the frontlines

Like in 2016, Virat Kohli has been central to RCB's late surge towards the playoffs. Back then, he scored four centuries and amassed 973 runs in the season, both records that still stand. While he is still a distance from those astronomical numbers, he is scoring faster than he has in any IPL season while remaining typically consistent: Kohli has contributed three half-centuries in the five-match winning streak.
His acceleration starts in the powerplay, a phase where he's scored at a strike rate of 193 in his last seven games, up from 131 in the first six. His overall powerplay strike rate of 163 in IPL 2024 is his best for a season.
That is crucial. Even though Kohli was near the top of the run chart, there were questions raised about his ability to score quickly after the fielding restrictions were lifted, especially against spin. He has improved that aspect of his game too, raising his strike rate against spin from 123.57 in his first nine games this season to 167.69 in his next four. Unlocking shots he seldom used earlier - like the slog sweep - has been at the heart of this reinvigoration.
"It's an evolving process," Kohli said after his 92 off 47 balls against Punjab Kings in Dharamsala. "I brought out the slog-sweep against the spinners. I didn't practice it, I know I have hit it in the past. I'm always looking to expose that side of the field against spin. I know I need to take risks, it needs a bit of conviction. I have been managing to stay ahead of that thought. I am trying to keep up with the strike rate for me and the team."

Patidar and Jacks find their gears

After RCB's loss to SRH on April 15, Glenn Maxwell attended the press conference at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, even though he hadn't played the game. He went on to reveal he had asked to be dropped after scoring only 32 runs in his first six innings.
In came Will Jacks, playing his first IPL season, and he made an impact in his third game by scoring 55 off 32 balls in a chase of 223 against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) at Eden Gardens. They eventually fell one run short but Jacks' 102-run partnership off 48 balls with Rajat Patidar showed RCB how to construct their middle order for the rest of the season.
Patidar has been especially aggressive against spin in the middle overs in RCB's last seven games, scoring at a strike rate of 254.71 and an average of 135 (135 runs, 53 balls, one dismissal). Among 19 batters with 50-plus runs against spin in this phase and period, his strike rate is the best, and all five of his fifties this season have come in less than 30 balls.
While Jacks wasn't as prolific as Patidar, he had his moments, like when he smashed Rashid Khan for 6, 6, 4, 6, 6 to race to 100 off 41 balls in RCB's victory against Gujarat Titans. He isn't available for Saturday's game against CSK, though, having returned to England for national duty.
"You don't need a rocket scientist to figure who the replacement will be," RCB's assistant coach Malolan Rangarajan said on the eve of the match.
With Faf du Plessis providing powerful cameos up top, and Cameron Green and Dinesh Karthik finishing strong, RCB will turn once again to Maxwell for that muscle in the middle overs.

Siraj turns his season around

Ever since Mohammed Siraj became RCB's spearhead, his form has shaped his team's bowling performance.
RCB picked up the fewest wickets (34) among all teams in the first eight games this season. Their bowling average (47.50) was the worst and their economy rate of 10.8 was the highest too. Siraj took only five wickets in seven games in this phase, and regularly conceded more than 10 an over.
There's been a remarkable transformation in their last five games. RCB have taken the most wickets (41), their bowling average of 20.5 is also the best, while their strike rate of 14 is only behind KKR's.
Siraj has had a massive role to play in this revival, bowling effectively in the powerplay and at the death, where he has a superb economy of 7.3 across the seven overs he has bowled. Two of these performances - against Titans and Kings - have had a positive impact on RCB's net run-rate. Siraj has taken seven wickets in his last five games, and conceded more than 9 an over in only one match.

RCB run into their ideal bowling combination

With Maxwell benched, Mayank Dagar not making the XI after the first few games, and Karn Sharma missing six of the first seven, RCB were woefully short of spin options.
They eventually turned to a 33-year-old left-arm spinner, Swapnil Singh, in their ninth game of the season. Before that, Swapnil had played only two IPL matches, for Lucknow Super Giants last season, and taken no wickets.
Coming in as an Impact Player, Swapnil was entrusted with an over in the powerplay against the fearsome SRH batting line-up, and he dismissed Aiden Markram and Heinrich Klaasen in the space of five balls to break their chase. RCB have given him the first over in his next four games, and he's offered them control as well as frequent breakthroughs.
Along with Swapnil, Yash Dayal and Green have also had improved returns and contributed to the team's resurgence just before it became too late. Dayal's spell of 3 for 20 and Green's 1 for 19 were crucial to RCB's NRR-boosting victory against Delhi Capitals in their most recent game.
Halfway through the season, almost no one gave RCB a chance of making the playoffs. But they are still here, having strung together a run of wins in what was effectively five knockout games. Hopefully, the weather in Bengaluru will allow them their shot at completing the greatest comeback in the history of the IPL.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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