A clinical performance from the Royal Challengers Bangalore saw them record a comfortable eight-wicket victory over a Kevin Pietersen-less Delhi Daredevils in Sharjah on Thursday, April 17.
The Daredevils recovered from a poor start with the bat to set what seemed like a challenging target of 145. However, even without opening batsman Chris Gayle, the Royal Challengers cruised to victory with 20 balls to spare.
The emphatic victory for the Royal Challengers without a player so integral to their success as Gayle will be cause for great encouragement. But the overbearing feeling emanating from the match was of concern for Delhi, who appeared worryingly rusty and alarmingly deficient in balance and quality.
The absence of such a star player as Pietersen, who is still recovering from a fractured finger, immediately set the Daredevils back. The void he left behind was conspicuously evident in the first six overs of their innings, as their top order crumbled to 30-3 by the end of the powerplay.
Admittedly, RCB—who won the toss and elected to bowl—were superb in the field and with the ball early on. Albie Morkel (1-18), in particular, hit an excellent length and extracted impressive bounce and carry from the pitch, while Varun Aaron (1-9) later bowled an excellent spell.
But the Delhi top four of Mayank Agarwal (6), Murali Vijay (18), stand-in captain Dinesh Karthik (0) and Manoj Tiwary (1) was weak by IPL-standards. Although Vijay, Karthik and Tiwary have played for India, there is no replacement for star international quality, and against probing bowling, such class was clearly lacking.
The Daredevils’ innings was rescued by their two international batsmen, JP Duminy (67*) and Ross Taylor (43*), who forged an unbeaten partnership of 110 for the fifth wicket.
Taylor did, however, struggle for fluency and timing in his innings, increasingly falling foul of trying to over-hit the ball as the pressure grew and his patience wore ever thinner. Duminy’s innings was not faultless either, but his timing and coordination was certainly better than that of Taylor’s.
That Delhi ended their innings with both a mid-range score (145) and a mid-range wicket loss (4) is a tell-tale sign of a team who have either poor strategy, poor execution or, indeed, both. And in this particular case, it would not be unfair to say both criticisms do apply.
While it is possible to legitimise the score and the wicket-loss by spinning Duminy’s and Taylor’s partnership as an admirable recovery from an awful start—which is was—such an assessment misses the root cause of their original predicament: The Delhi top order lacked quality and Twenty20 experience.
Duminy and Taylor rebuilding as they did was not so much neccesary as expected. To plan for them playing cameos or blitzes with the top order they possessed would've been naive at best.
What makes this strategic failure so frustrating is that Pietersen would surely have batted—at the very least—in the top four were he to have been fit. Yet despite this, the management did not fill the hole Pietersen left behind with another international batsman, as indeed their strategy should've dictated.
And it’s not as if they are lacking in such players in the squad. Both of Duminy and Taylor could've batted at least in the top-four, if not even the top-three. While Quinton de Kock, who has only recently been opening the batting for South Africa, would’ve at least added something different to an otherwise one-dimensional top-order, but he didn’t even play. Jimmy Neesham, (potentially Pietersen’s replacement—Taylor is the other candidate) didn’t even face a single ball!
Whilst on the topic, Duminy and Taylor batting down at No. 5 and 6 is surely too low and, similarly to the way Mumbai Indians are handling Corey Anderson and Kieron Pollard, an inefficient use of overseas talent. Splitting them up by promoting one of them—in both cases—would bolster the team more broadly speaking and get more value out of star assets.
The Delhi Daredevils are certainly a weaker team for Pietersen’s absence, but they are not broken beyond repair. They have more than enough batting talent to readjust appropriately and not even radically, to stay steady.
It is Delhi’s bowling that was perhaps even more concerning, however. For while their batting was lacking in strategy, the bowling was lacking in quality. Both Wayne Parnell and Mohammad Shami returned impressive figures, but Delhi will need them to step up a level to become attack leaders. While the lack of control displayed by inexperienced spinners Shahbaz Nadeem and Rahul Sharma was also worrying; it is early days, though.
To cap off a miserable evening for Delhi, their fielding was awful, and stand-in captain Karthik made a number of questionable bowling changes, at questionable times, with the introduction of Nadeem for the final powerplay over popping the cork off an excellent first five overs. Throwing the ball to leg-spinner Sharma after Shami had peppered Yuvraj was also surprising.
For RCB, this was a really encouraging performance. Although batting should not be a concern this season (Virat Kohli 49*, AB de Villiers DNB), the form of Yuvraj Singh (52*) offers insurance, balance and indeed variation to the power-packed order. Parthiv Patel (37) also played a sprightly innings opening the batting. Best of all, however, were the returns of Morkel and Aaron with the ball, who were remarkably frugal.
The only blemish on an otherwise perfect day for RCB was Kohli’s decision to bowl the expensive Ashok Dinda for the final over of the innings despite Morkel and Aaron having one over each remaining. In an interview with IBNLive's Amit Kumar, Dinda said that bowling coach Allan Donald has told him that he is the best death bowler RCB have, which explains the thinking behind the decision. However, the logic behind the thinking, with Dinda having conceded 11 runs per over in death overs since 2011, is less evident.
If you are being ultra-critical you could point out that Duminy and Taylor were allowed to bat together for 12.5 overs and that RCB let that partnership drift—and were thus justly punished when the final five overs went for 63.
But generally speaking, this was as clinical and encouraging a performance for RCB as it was worrying and inefficient for the Delhi Daredevils.