Overseas selections hamper RCB balance
While it's not quite all doom and gloom yet, Royal Challengers Bangalore are not far from the point of no-return on the league table. One win in five games leaves them with the prospect of having to win at least seven of the remaining nine games - five of which are away - to have a chance of securing a play-off berth. And the lack of balance when it comes to the selection of overseas players is giving coach Daniel Vettori sleepless nights.
After watching a match "snatched from under their nose" by Mumbai Indians - who recovered from 7 for 4 to chase down 143 - the team management strengthened their bowling by leaving out Chris Gayle for Shane Watson against Rising Pune Supergiant on Sunday. In addition, Adam Milne was brought in for his first game of the season at the expense of Tymal Mills. As a result, the batting order was shuffled around for the third time in as many matches, and the slow surface exposed Royal Challengers' struggles. They lost to Rising Pune by 27 runs.
"The thing is, in the IPL we're constantly searching for the right balance," Vettori said. "In the Mumbai game, we were down a bowler. Shane has been such a successful allrounder in T20 cricket for a long period of time. So we made the decision to back Shane because of his all-round contribution.
"It's tough for everyone in T20 cricket. A lot of domestic players have had to step in and perform after missing a few games or not being in their best form. We know Chris Gayle is a very good performer and we know if he can get on a roll than we can utilise Chris in a positive manner. At this stage we are just trying to find the right balance."
Vettori attributed the frequent changes in selection to being caught a little off guard by the kind of surfaces they've encountered at home, but insisted that wasn't an excuse to cover their shortcomings. "It's probably a case of dealing with a kind of wicket that we haven't played on before," he said. "It's obviously slightly slower. We are used to wickets that make it a lot easier for batsmen to hit the ball for six, hit the ball for four, to catch up with a few dot balls."
Chasing 162 against Rising Pune, Royal Challengers did not hit a single four and struck only one six between the fourth and 15th overs. The inability to adjust, Vettori felt, added to the pressure. "We are probably creating pressure on ourselves through dot balls, striking at below 100," he said. "Trying to catch that up in the back end on a slow wicket is incredibly difficult. I think in a lot of ways we need to be more proactive.
"I think the wickets are not batting-friendly, but that doesn't mean it's not a good T20 wicket. It's been exciting for the bowlers. All three games have been pretty entertaining and I think we have showed that we can compete on this wicket. It is different, we just need to adapt like we did in the Delhi game."
Without mincing words, Vettori was also clear about the problems with their batting. "We saw what the likes of KL (Rahul), Sachin Baby, all those roles players from last year performed," he said. "The expectation is on AB and Virat to excel, but we need the likes of Mandeep (Singh), Kedhar (Jadhav), Shane (Watson) and Stuart Binny to complement their performances. We haven't made it easy on Mandeep by chopping and changing the line-up. We are trying to find the right combination. Once we find the right combination we can get on a roll.
"I won't say drastic changes are required. We back the quality of our performance on our day and we know that we haven't had enough of those when we need consistent performances across the board. We have had little pockets of it. Aravind was exceptional today, Milne in his first game for RCB in a long time did a great job. We need more of those performances, we can't rely on one or two people and that's why we did so well last year. We need more performances from more people."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo