RCB at Silk Board junction: stuck with no relief in sight
Mandhana's poor form, middle-order woes, and tactical mistakes keep them rooted to the bottom with a fourth straight loss
UP Warriorz 139 for 0 (Healy 96*, Vaidya 36*) beat Royal Challengers Bangalore 138 (Perry 52, Devine 36, Ecclestone 4-13, Deepti 3-26) by ten wickets
Royal Challengers Bangalore are stuck at the bottom of the table as if they are at the Silk Board junction in Bengaluru. Even if they don't know how they got there, they are seemingly unable to move now, don't know what to do next, and there are high chances they won't reach their destination (the playoffs) this time.
Their fourth loss in a row in the WPL, a ten-wicket thrashing from UP Warriorz, was a result of yet another disappointing batting show from a star-studded line-up featuring Smriti Mandhana, Sophie Devine, Ellyse Perry, Heather Knight and Richa Ghosh.
Their scores so far in the tournament may not seem so low in an absolute sense but they don't match up with the other teams' at all. They fell short by 60 runs while chasing 224 against Delhi Capitals, they were all out for 155 before Mumbai Indians marched to the target in under 15 overs, and they were mostly behind the asking rate chasing 202 against Gujarat Giants and eventually fell short. On Friday, their Indian batters failed once again to show up as they were skittled for 138, their lowest total so far.
Pressure mounting on Smriti Mandhana
This is all new territory for Mandhana - full-time captaincy on the big stage, the most expensive player in a franchise league, and handling four straight losses early in the tournament.
Despite starting the tournament with a quick 35 off 23, she hasn't lived up to her reputation, and the oppositions have found a way early in the tournament to dismiss her. She fell to offspinners in the first three games, and Warriorz too opened the bowling with Grace Harris' offbreaks on Friday. Mandhana was so tentative against her, she merely pushed around a full toss and a half volley in the powerplay for singles. The pressure mounted, and once left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad came on, she gave her the charge immediately to hand a leading edge to cover. Mandhana now has sores of 4, 18 and 23 in her last three games. While she took "the blame" as a top-order batter for not giving her bowlers enough runs to defend, Perry, their top-scorer with 52 on Friday, was confident her captain would come out of this with some learnings.
"To be honest, knowing Smriti and how proud and responsible she is for her own game, there's probably no more pressure on her than what she is putting on herself," Perry said after the match, "and it's a ginormous task to come into a brand new competition, play with a group of players she's never played with before and try and make that all gel in a matter of a couple of days since she joined the group.
"She is an incredible player, we all know that. She is a great captain too, she just needs a chance to find her feet in the tournament and she will, no doubt. But I think, the bigger picture, it means we are going to see an even better version of Smriti after this because I'm sure she has learnt from this competition already both as a captain and as a batter to make her better in the future. She's only young still ."
Why is RCB's batting not clicking?
You'll be surprised to know that Royal Challengers have the best powerplay run rate so far (8.88) and the next best is Delhi Capitals' 8.22. The problem is they lose all their momentum and most of their wickets in the middle overs (7-16), which was on show on Friday as well when they slipped from 54 for 1 to 116 for 5.
"Certainly, with the bat, that middle section has been a bit tricky for us and losing wickets when we really need to kick on and have batters take responsibility for the innings," Perry said. "We're losing really important moments in the game and probably the biggest part of that is just not having a big partnership that really kicks the score on.
"Interestingly the way we finished the game against Gujarat the other night, chasing that big score, was absolutely brilliant. It's just that middle period where teams are accelerating and get a long-standing partnership, that seems to be where we're losing a wicket or two. To me, that's the biggest thing that we crucially haven't had one of those big partnerships that give the momentum for your side."
The fact that Royal Challengers haven't had a stable No. 4 adds to their worries. So far their No. 4s have been Disha Kasat, Perry, Ghosh and Kanika Ahuja. It showed on Friday when they were going very well with a powerful stand of 44 between Perry and Devine for the second wicket, but once Devine was bowled by Sophie Ecclestone, sending an inexperienced Ahuja dented their progress. The stand between Perry and Ahuja lasted 16 balls for 12 runs without a single boundary and pushed the run rate down from nearly nine to 7.72. It could be argued that Royal Challengers wanted to hold Knight back as a finisher, but the lack of a solid No. 4 is really hurting them.
And Richa Ghosh at No. 8?
Ghosh has hardly batted at No. 8 for India. And no matter how powerful your line-up is, Ghosh should be given at least 20-odd balls to face. On Friday, Royal Challengers sent her out in the 17th over with only 22 balls left in the innings. Having played her at Nos. 5, 6, 4 and 8 so far, Royal Challengers have not yet figured out how to make the most of their second-most expensive player at the auction.
Ghosh's run-out against Warriorz summed up the team's situation too. They were 131 for 8 after 17 overs and Ghosh was their only hope to go past 150. Desperate to take strike, Ghosh took off from the non-striker's end when Komal Zanzad defended a ball back to Gayakwad and the bowler sent Ghosh back with a direct hit.
Defending 138 and having left out Megan Schutt, Royal Challengers didn't open with swing bowler Renuka Singh, who has an enviable record against Healy: four dismissals while conceding 54 runs in 43 balls (before Friday). They instead gave the ball to the inexperienced duo of Zanzad and Shreyanka Patil, who leaked 32 runs in the first three overs. By the time Renuka got the ball, in the fifth over, Warriorz were already going at 9.50 an over.
Healy showed no mercy after that as well. She unleashed lofted straight drives, sweeps and reverse sweeps, and raced to a 29-ball fifty before taking the aerial route even more often with her trademark powerful strokes to finish unbeaten on 96 off 47 balls and take Warriorz home in just the 13th over.
Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo