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Aggression or conservatism? The T20 approach!

RCB's Glenn Maxwell
RCB's Glenn Maxwell
©IPL
 

To go for it or get your eye in? To be conservative or to be aggressive? T20 batting is now in the middle of a debate which has polarized opinions. And caught in the middle of it is KL Rahul. The criticism surrounding his approach has refused to die down and after his 79(58) in the eliminator where his team, Lucknow Super Giants, went down to Royal Challengers Bangalore by 14 runs, the noise around his strike rate has become excruciating.

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Let’s move away from KL Rahul and focus on RCB for the moment. For a long time, RCB were focussed on their batting and by batting, I mean Chris Gayle, AB De Villiers and Virat Kohli. After Gayle and RCB parted ways, it was AB De Villiers and Virat Kohli. After 2016, RCB had 3 disastrous seasons and obviously it called for a change, none better than Mike Hesson to take over. It wasn’t about a few individuals anymore. It was about phases (powerplay, middle overs and death overs), match ups and individual roles.

In 2021, they acquired Glenn Maxwell which came as a surprise to many considering that he had a disastrous 2020 season where he averaged 15.43 while striking at just 101.89 and did not hit a single six. But RCB had a clear plan about his role, which was as a middle overs’ specialist against spin. What followed was a monstrous 2021 season where Maxwell smashed 6 half centuries while averaging 42.75 and striking at 144.10. Since 2021, Maxwell has more runs (487) than any other RCB batter at a strike rate of 139 in the middle over phase.

Now let us move on to Harshal Patel. After having a good 2015 season where he picked up 17 wickets at an economy of 7.48, he went off the boil. He barely bowled, picked up 13 wickets across 4 seasons at an economy of 9.98. In 2020 he was picked up by RCB but he played just the 5 games. For the season of 2021, he was given the role of being a specialist bowler in the backend of the innings, especially in the death overs. He picked up a mind boggling 32 wickets, almost the double of the wickets that he picked in seasons 2016-2020. His slower ball became the talk of the town and by his own admission on Breakfast with Champions, even the likes of De Villiers, Kohli and Maxwell struggled to pick it out of the hand.

Coming to the 2022 season, the roles of Shahbaz Ahmed and Dinesh Karthik are interesting. Shahbaz is probably the best representation of how RCB have successfully moved on from their dependance on big names. In first half of IPL, he played a crucial role of a floater coming in at different stages and playing match turning innings. RCB have more often than not tried to hold DK back as a finisher in the death overs against pace, while trying to protect him against leg spin. For instance, in their 2nd game of IPL 2022 vs KKR, RCB were 17-3. David Willey, Shefane Rutherford and Shahbaz were sent ahead of Karthik and he appeared only in the 17th over. DK faced 113 balls vs pace against which he averages a jaw dropping 128.5 with a strike rate of 227.4 where as he faced 60 balls vs spin (Average/Strike Rate- 33.5/111.7), out of which only 18 balls were against leg spinners.

The reason we focused on RCB is to exemplify the approach used by them in playing t20 cricket. In Siraj and Hazelwood they had new ball bowlers. They also used Akash Deep with specific plans, like the hard lengths vs KKR batters, for a brief period. With Shahbaz, Wanindu Hasaranga and Harshal Patel they had batting options up to number 9 and as many as six bowling options (7 after inclusion of Mahipal Lomror). Maxwell reprised his role as a middle over specialist and with the ball chipped in with a few overs and wickets. While their campaign may not have gone according to plans, the clarity in roles, match ups, conditions and the process has been very much apparent. The process is built on different individuals playing different roles and the onus of winning games isn’t on one or two individuals. As a result, they have qualified for the play offs for three consecutive seasons.

Now let us come back to KL Rahul. After 2018 season where he averaged 54.92 with a strike rate of 158.41, he has donned the role of an anchor who occupies the crease for major part of the innings which is in contrast to the role that he plays for the Indian team in t20 internationals.

KL Rahul since 2019

Overs        Average      Strike Rate

01-06         62.4            116.6

07-11         44.8            124.8

12-16         181.3          159.1

17-20         31.5            192.9

 It clearly shows the run making ability he has but also the rate at which they come. As an opener not maximizing the powerplay and the middle overs, to accelerate in the backend is fraught with risk. 

The problem arises when the teams that he played for, ended up not maximizing their batting resources. For instance, in 2021 Nicholas Pooran averaged a horrendous 7.7 while facing a meagre 76 balls across 10 innings, case in point. To say that every batter should score at a rapid pace from get go is probably incorrect, because different batters have different strengths. But it is absolutely essential in T20 cricket to have the right batters in the right phases of the game vs the right bowlers to maximize chances of winning.

In the eliminator of LSG vs RCB, Rahul faced 58 balls and scored 79 runs while Rajat Patidar (another player not belonging to the big-name category) scored 112 runs from lesser number of balls (54). The difference was that LSG were chasing and Rahul was aware of the target. From overs 9-13, LSG scored only 30 runs. Evin Lewis (who is primarily an opener) and Marcus Stoinis faced sum total of 15 balls in the death overs.

To win T20 games, the maximization of batting and bowling resources is paramount which is clear from our case study of RCB from seasons 2020 to 2022. Players are allotted roles suited for them, based on match ups and conditions. Given KL Rahul’s ability and class and the array of shots he possesses and also the stats he has for the Indian team or the season he had for KXIP in 2018, it is clear that the role of an anchor isn’t best suited for him and going forward LSG have to rethink their strategies and usage of batting resources. The results speak for themselves.

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