In the IPL auction for the 2019 season, Royal Challengers Bangalore spent a total of INR 15.85 crore in buying eight players. Almost 60% of that money was spent on two men: Shimron Hetmyer and Shivam Dube.
Of the 14 games Royal Challengers played in the season, Hetmyer played five and Dube played four. Even without digging deeper, those seem like very limited opportunities for players a franchise seemingly has faith in, given they were willing to spend so much on them.
Digging deeper, Royal Challengers had struggled in the middle overs, not getting enough momentum against spinners. Before Hetmyer launched into Rashid Khan and company on Saturday night, their middle-overs run rate across the last two IPL seasons was 7.6, the lowest among all eight teams. Against spin in IPL 2019, their run rate was 6.6, and they had also lost 20 wickets in the middle overs - both the worst figures for the season.
But after he failed in his first four games, Hetmyer didn't get a look in until the very last match, against Sunrisers Hyderabad. When he did get an opportunity, he showed the team management what they had missed. He was especially brutal against Rashid, taking him for 32 runs off 15 balls, four of which went over the boundary. Rashid was frazzled, and his lengths suffered. His googly, which batsmen have struggled to read, was landing too short and Hetmyer could hammer it away easily. His leggies were also all awry, and Hetmyer found the arc between mid-on and square leg a productive area.
He had walked in at 18 for 2 and seen it become 20 for 3 with both Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers gone. The perennial complaint of Royal Challengers over the past few seasons has been that the batting seems to start and end with these two. Hetmyer, still only 22, offered hope that things could change.
Where Royal Challengers need to ask themselves questions though, is what they offered him in return. True, he failed in his first four innings. But what of the nature of the failures? On IPL debut he lost his head in going for a run that wasn't there, but many of his team-mates lost their heads too because they could only muster 70 all out. Two games later, he was part of another collapse, with Sunrisers smothering Royal Challengers in a 118-run victory. He batted at No. 5 in his first two knocks, was sent to open against Sunrisers, then came in at No. 4.
That is perhaps the nature of the beast, with T20 cricket demanding flexibility from teams and players alike. But the flipside of the asking flexibility of a player should be a long enough rope where warranted. And Hetmyer's international record in the past seven months warranted it.
"The starting was a little bit tough for me I would say," Hetmyer told the host broadcaster after his 75 off 47 on Saturday. "It's just about getting used to the environment and getting used to IPL itself. Sometimes it gets in your head, but you just try to clear your mind as much as possible and just go out and execute."
Dube didn't even get that opportunity. He was also part of the two horror batting games Royal Challengers had, against Super Kings and Sunrisers in the first week of the tournament. He did his part against Mumbai Indians in between, facing only five balls at the death but smashing a six to score nine runs - but his team couldn't get over the line. He bowled all of 10 balls in the season, and in his first three games it was a mere four balls. Brought back in Royal Challengers' last week, he made 24 off 16 against Delhi Capitals, and bowled one over while giving up five runs. None of these are spectacular returns, but then, Dube hardly had spectacular opportunities.
In fact, bowling wise, without any consideration of minimum overs bowled, Dube had the best economy rate for the team. It was strange to see Royal Challengers lose faith in him so quickly, because the way they went after him aggressively in the auction suggested they saw great potential.
On the eve of the last league match against Sunrisers, coach Gary Kirsten had spoken of how he was "a fan" of continuity.
"You want to try and build your core of players and build a culture where you can keep coming back to the same players," Kirsten had said. "I think the most successful franchises in IPL have done that. We're searching for that in RCB... we need to really start building a core of players that we believe in, and back them. I think the franchises that do a lot of chopping and changing every year run into problems."
And yet, Royal Challengers used 21 players over the course of the season - the second highest among all teams. Crucially, they seemed to be unsure of what their best XI was - or not have enough patience to deal with the nature of T20 cricket, a format where a run of failures is common enough.
Hetmyer and Dube are two examples of Royal Challengers' underused resources, but not the only ones. This year, Washington Sundar played only three games, the first of which was more than a month after the tournament began. Last season, Navdeep Saini had spent all his time on the bench without getting a game, even as Royal Challengers struggled with bowling options. He has turned into a find for them this year, but last year too he was coming off an excellent domestic season.
Hetmyer showed in their last league game, what might have been. As he walked off the park after being dismissed, there was a spontaneous standing ovation from the full house at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. The fans had kept packing the stadium despite the defeats, and they were showing their warmth at getting something back in return. Hetmyer walked off with bat raised to all parts of the ground to acknowledge the applause.
And perhaps that raised bat and the sight of a stadium on its feet held a message for Royal Challengers for the next season.