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How can RCB turn the Chinnaswamy Stadium into a fortress?

The conditions mean RCB don't have any discernible advantage at home, where their 50% win record is the second lowest in IPL history

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
So far this season, RCB have won two and lost two at home  •  BCCI

So far this season, RCB have won two and lost two at home  •  BCCI

The upcoming Karnataka assembly elections mean that Royal Challengers Bangalore have an unusually lopsided schedule for IPL 2023: six home games out of eight to start the tournament, then five consecutive away fixtures before closing out the group stage at home.
Most teams would see that as an opportunity to start strongly by dominating at home, but for RCB, it poses a unique challenge. Their home ground, the Chinnaswamy Stadium, has a well-earned reputation as the best place to bat in the country, and this season has been no different, with an overall scoring rate of 9.83 runs an over in the four games it has hosted.
So far this season, RCB have won two and lost two at home. They thrashed Mumbai Indians in their opening match, and beat Delhi Capitals on a slower pitch in a day game, but their two defeats distilled the essence of the Chinnaswamy's challenge. Against Lucknow Super Giants, their 212 for 2 was chased down off the final ball with a wicket to spare; against Chennai Super Kings, they were on the cusp of pulling off a record chase of 227, but ultimately fell eight runs short.
For Trent Woodhill, who spent five years as RCB's support staff, a defeat against CSK five years ago summed up the difficulty of playing home games at a ground where a combination of short boundaries, flat pitches and the high altitude mean shots that would be caught in the deep at other venues disappear into the tenth row here.
"They were always behind the game, but MS Dhoni was still there," Woodhill recalls. "Mohammed Siraj bowled him the best possible wide yorker at the end of the second-last over; he hit it for six over backward point. It was like, 'Man! How do you do that?'
"On any other wicket in India, that's been squeezed for two. They still needed something like 16 off the last over, but I knew we'd already lost. Because it's an enclosed, concrete stadium, the noise is deafening. That's the pressure that Bangalore have to deal with every single time they play at home."
While other franchises can tailor their bowling attacks to their home conditions, both spin and seam alike tend to go the distance in Bengaluru. Perhaps it is little wonder that RCB's overall win percentage at home - exactly 50%, excluding no-results and Super Overs - is the second-lowest of any franchise across IPL history, close behind Capitals'.
In fact, there is a negligible difference between their home and away records in the IPL - and it is surely no coincidence that RCB's first-ever run of three consecutive play-off appearances came over the last three seasons, when the pandemic meant they did not play a single game at home.
Re-adjusting to the Chinnaswamy has been tough. "The most challenging thing about this venue is because the ground is so small and the wicket is so true, that batsmen have no apprehension going for a six almost every single ball," Harshal Patel explained. "They know that even if they don't connect, they're likely to clear the boundary.
"Those factors always play on your mind," he admitted. That is another issue for RCB to overcome: the psychological hurdle of accepting that taking, say, 2 for 40 from four overs can represent a match-winning contribution.
For visiting teams, it is a fixture to look forward to. "Dan [Vettori] and I often spoke about it: how do we create a home advantage? But it's so difficult on that surface, in that city," Woodhill says. "Everyone wants to play there, because Bangalore is one of the best places to go in India in terms of hotels, practice facilities, food, drinks.
"Away teams like playing at the Chinnaswamy. Jaipur is a lovely city, but playing there sucked because it was so difficult to get a result. No one likes going to Chennai, because it's such a fortress for them. But away teams go to the Chinnaswamy and their batters think, 'If it's my day, if I'm on, then we can chase whatever.'"
It begs the question: how can RCB turn their home ground into a fortress? In the early stages of this season, driven by Siraj's form, they have been the IPL's best new-ball wicket-takers, and have put a heavy focus on early wickets. "We try and get as many wickets as we can up front, so that makes our job easier," Harshal said.
The other obvious answer is to consistently out-bat their opposition, and their three big guns - Faf du Plessis, Virat Kohli and Glenn Maxwell - have scored heavily in the early stages of the season. But RCB have long suffered from a self-perpetuating issue: their usual reliance on star batters means that their less-proven domestic batters often find themselves facing very few balls and therefore lacking rhythm.
Even in 2016, when Kohli and AB de Villiers delivered two of the most stunning individual seasons in IPL history, the question of how high to aim in the first innings was a recurring theme. RCB reached the final, but finished the season with five home wins out of nine.
"It's not impossible for us to make this our fortress," Harshal said. "We've had 50% wins at this venue so far [this season]; going forward, we'd like to take that percentage even higher."
On Sunday, against Rajasthan Royals, they have the chance to nudge it up to 60.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98