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IPL 2024 – Royal Chalengers Bengaluru need their overseas batters to come to the party

It’s alarming and astounding all at once that Virat Kohli has contributed 38% of Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s runs so far. He currently holds the Orange Cap for most runs, while striking at just over 146. He’s scored quicker only once previously, in 2016 when he played a stirring role in RCB’s march to the final with a record-breaking 973 runs.

There’s been an intent to go hard from the first ball, even though it hasn’t always manifested into desired outcomes. There’s been the slowdown against spin, like you saw on Saturday when R Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal tied him down with exceptional bowling in the middle overs, but there’s also been the inherent desire to try and bat through simply because of how reliant they are on him.

That’s because Faf du Plessis has made 109 runs, Glenn Maxwell just 32, while Cameron Green, a big-ticket pre-auction trade, has 68 runs in five innings. Prior to Saturday’s game these three had lasted all of 133 balls across 12 innings while striking at 120. These returns are in stark contrast to 2023, when du Plessis made 730 runs at a strike rate of 153.68, while Maxwell made 400 at 183.48.

It’s a different story that RCB didn’t make the playoffs even then, but their overseas combination wasn’t one of those reasons. This time around, while the playoffs are already beginning to look increasingly more distant, their struggles have also had a ripple effect on the shaky middle order.

Rajat Patidar, who has had much success at No. 3, has had to float around the batting order while searching for runs himself. Anuj Rawat has found himself in one game, out the next, while Mahipal Lomror inexplicably found himself on the bench against Rajasthan Royals despite making an unbeaten 17 off eight balls in their only win (against Punjab Kings) and smashing 33 off 13 against Lucknow Super Giants when all their other batters were tied down.

Dinesh Karthik too hasn’t been utilised enough in a role he has been designated to play ever since he rewrote his template to become a finisher in 2018. Against the Royals, RCB strangely held back Karthik, promoting rookie debutant Saurav Chauhan instead after Maxwell was dismissed in the 15th over with the score reading 128 for 2. They managed 183 for 3, but there was this lingering feeling that they hadn’t utilized their resources well enough.

“I think batting out there for quite a bit with Virat, we found the wicket was tricky and low,” du Plessis said. “In our heads, we felt 190 would be a good score. I did feel last over or two, we could have maximized 10-15 runs more. In the evening, you saw with the dew it played much nicer. I feel now in hindsight, we should’ve pushed a little harder to get to 190-195 mark.”

Andy Flower, the head coach, was a point-blank about their struggles.

“We’ve got issues with our batting,” he said. “You’re being generous when you say these are early days [in the competition]. We’re one from five games, not a position any side wants to be in. We’ve got Virat in superb form but the other guys are struggling a little for form and confidence.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to make them feel strong and confident. As you’ve seen in this competition, scores and aggression are going only one way, we need that confidence and aggression to put the opposition under pressure and we haven’t found that form yet.”

Kohli underlined the difficulties in facing spin, with the lack of pace and bounce leaving him with few options but to just hit straight. And then you saw Sanju Samson play some of the most aesthetically pleasing shots against spin, using his feet and lofting inside-out effortlessly, squatting low and sweeping into the arc between deep square and deep midwicket during the course of his match-changing 148-run partnership with Jos Buttler.

Of course, there’s a world of difference between the two spin attacks. Where Royals had Chahal and Ashwin, RCB had to make do with Himanshu Sharma and Mayank Dagar. Fundamentally, spin is a problematic area no doubt, and has the potential to leave them in a tangle even when they encounter slightly tired decks as the season progresses. This is invariably bound to put even more pressure on a misfiring batting line-up.

“Of course we do discuss strike rate and aggression, it’s part of the understanding of the T20 game that the level of aggression has to be above a certain threshold and you always want to be putting the opposition under pressure,” Flower explained. “Certainly taking the aggressive option, certainly on pitches like today.

“The fact is at the moment our top five aren’t in sparkling form apart from Virat and that’s a tough place to be. It’s not for lack of effort. They’re working hard. Giving it everything they’ve got bit just not firing at the moment, if we’re going to turn this around, we need them firing.”

Is there a workaround?

There’s a growing clamor for them to bring in Will Jacks, and for good reason. His powerplay strike rate of 164.21 is the best among batters who’ve faced a minimum of 1000 balls (a fairly big sample size to consider).

In his second most-recent T20 innings in February, Jacks blasted an unbeaten 53-ball 108 to help Comilla Victorians post 239. He strikes at 146 in the middle overs. He also bowls decent off spin to boot.

“RCB have to seriously consider Will Jacks,” Tom Moody said on ESPNcricinfo’s ‘T20: Time-Out’. “How they fit him in is a discussion that needs to be had. I can’t se him coming in for Faf. To me, both Maxwell and Green are under pressure.

“I think your hand is forced. You can’t have a potential resource in your squad and not press the trigger particularly when you’re in the position you’re in now. If you don’t do it now, when will you do it? Your season’s already gone. I’d back Faf and Virat to open and put Will Jacks at No. 3.”

This move may need RCB to drop Maxwell or Green, a position they would’ve never envisaged at the start. But in desperate times, RCB may just be forced to take desperate measures or run the risk of summoning their calculator that they dust back to life unfailingly around this time, season after season.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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