<
>

Will RCB find the spark their season needs?

Chris Woakes reacts in the field BCCI

The slow and low tracks from 2017 have made way for the high-scoring matches that Bengaluru is so very familiar with. Teams have raced along at 9.52 per over and while that would seem perfect for the batting-heavy Royal Challengers Bangalore, they have lost games despite posting scores of 198 and 205. Bowling at the death has always been an issue for the IPL's perennial bridesmaids, but this season they have outdone even themselves.

RCB have recently preferred bowling out both Umesh Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal before the 16th over. As a result, the pressure of closing an innings out has fallen on Chris Woakes and Corey Anderson, who are relatively inexperienced with respect to Indian conditions, and Kulwant Khejroliya and Mohammed Siraj, who are inexperienced, period.

Now this plan certainly has some merits - bumping up the required rate in a chase, for example - but it also has one big loophole. Experienced batsmen have been able to see off Umesh and Chahal out and go hard against the other three. Chahal, speaking to the media on the eve of RCB's game against Kolkata Knight Riders, admitted this as well.

"They [CSK] needed a hundred [99] off the last seven overs when I bowled in the 14th over," he said. "We planned for a wicket and if we got a wicket, they only had Bravo left. But they planned that they wouldn't hit me, only wanted singles against me and choosing to attack the other bowlers. Sometimes, one guy is hitting but second guy is defending. But last match both were attacking, and they chose their bowler."

Umesh can't be used in the final stages: he conceded 27 in the final over against Rajasthan Royals, 28 in two overs against Mumbai Indians and 30 in two against Kolkata Knight Riders. Anderson lost it against the Super Kings. So perhaps RCB should look more closely at Tim Southee. He brings both pace and accuracy and is a proven performer in the death for New Zealand.

Of course, there is no such thing as a quick fix in cricket. Just better planning. So what can the Royal Challengers do to get the better of KKR's big-hitting overseas batsmen and quality international spin bowlers? Pace onto the bat brings Chris Lynn and Andre Russell into play, but a slow, turning surface brings in the 12 overs from Sunil Narine, Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla.

Chahal, however, believes that quality spin doesn't really help at the Chinnaswamy stadium. "I am enjoying bowling, ball is spinning so obviously a spinner will enjoy [conditions]," he said. "KKR have three quality spinners, and even our spinners are good, so [a good score] depends on how the pitch is tomorrow. Even last game it was spinning a lot, but we still scored 200, so depends how you're batting. [Washington] Sundar is bowling well too, and even he has gotten hit."

RCB have their back against the wall and it won't be surprising if they come into Sunday's game with some changes. Manan Vohra was the first man out for batting practice, and his inclusion will allow Anderson to make way for Southee. The ball that Southee angles in and then takes away has the potential to square up both Lynn and Robin Uthappa, while his mix of cutters and yorkers at the death would insulate the other Indian pacers.

At sixth place, RCB have fallen behind in the tournament. But they have been in this situation before. "Last match was disappointing for us, but it's okay," Chahal said. "We still have eight matches [to go] and if you see in 2015 and 2016, you remember how we bounced back. Forget about the six matches and concentrate on the next matches only."

They need to get on a winning run, and with two home games over the next four days, there's no better time than Sunday to get back on track.