Aaron Finch's arrival has added more quality to Royal Challengers Bangalore's top order, but their squishy middle and lower order came into focus during their narrow opening win against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Monday. After a blistering start, led by Devdutt Padikkal, the 20-year-old IPL debutant, captain Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers added only 33 off 28 balls. Despite de Villiers finding a higher gear in the slog overs, the Royal Challengers finished with 163 for 5, having been on 53 for 0 after the Powerplay and then 90 for 0 in the 11th over.
Allrounder Shivam Dube, who was promoted to No.5, couldn't get the big hits away either, labouring to 7 off eight balls. On another night, such a slowdown might have cost the Royal Challengers, but Yuzvendra Chahal and Sunrisers' own squishy middle order ensured Kohli's men started their campaign with a victory.
With Padikkal showing plenty of promise at the top, and de Villiers not (yet) keeping wicket, the Royal Challengers left out Parthiv Patel from the XI and made room for the Australian wicketkeeper-batsman Josh Philippe at the expense of the allrounder Moeen Ali. The 23-year-old batted out of position at No.6 - he has broken through with 662 runs in 23 innings at the top at a strike rate of 135.37 - and was unbeaten on 1 off two balls. In 33 innings in his T20 career, Philippe has batted only ten times in the middle order (all at No.6), scoring 137 runs in ten innings at 152.22. His Australia white-ball captain and his IPL team-mate Finch, however, believes Philippe can come good as a finisher, too, if he's given a fair run in that role.
"Absolutely [he can be a finisher]. I think he's someone who has got so much talent that he can play a number of roles," Finch said on the eve of the Royal Challengers' game against Kings XI Punjab in Dubai. "We've seen how successful he can be at the top of the order in Big Bash and things like that. He's someone who can play all around the ground. He's got a lot of talent and a lot of skill and so I think if he's given enough time at each role, I think he will start to develop into that beautifully."
Finch also called for similar flexibility when it came to his role at the top with Padikkal. Against the Sunrisers, it was Padikkal who set the early pace with seven boundaries in the powerplay as opposed to Finch's one. Finch said their roles could be reversed depending on the pitch and conditions across the three venues in the UAE.
"Dev obviously got off to a great start the other day, so then it was my job to just try and get him back on strike and let him keep playing really well and really aggressive," Finch said. "But there'll be some days when that role is reversed and I'll get off to a bit of a flier and then our partnership becomes important again. I think my game has evolved probably by playing more and more T20 cricket. You understand roles and you understand game scenarios a little bit more. Hopefully, I can contribute heavily for Bangalore."
While the pitches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have provided some assistance to the seamers so far, the one that was used for Sharjah's first game of the season on Tuesday was much flatter and offered less bounce. A record 33 sixes were hit in the game between Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, with the dew setting in later in the evening. Finch was wary of the dew and tiring tracks in the second half of the tournament, but backed the Royal Challengers to find a way past them.
"I think the dew will play a big part in the tournament," he said. "Probably the last three games and the game in Sharjah last night, there was more dew than expected from us. So, I think, as the games go on and a lot of games [are] played on the same wickets over and over, the wickets will get slower and the dew will become even more of a factor. But you still have to play your best and can't use that as an excuse. If you happen to bat first on a slow wicket, you have to adjust to that and come up with plans and processes to give you every opportunity to be successful in all the conditions."
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo