What has gone wrong for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in IPL 2018?

6th May, 2018.


Yesterday's match, against Chennai Super Kings, saw the Royal Challengers Bangalore slide to another crushing defeat, and the team which many observers consider to have the best batting line-up in the competition (Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, et al) are now 3-6 for the event, and probably need to win all of their remaining five matches to make the playoffs.

In truth, these failures were fairly difficult to foresee prior to the tournament.  While RCB have historically been much more batting-orientated than strong in the bowling department, the full auction enabled them the opportunity to sort out their bowling, from scratch.  

Prior to the auction, they retained Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers (understandable, as two of the best batsmen in the world) and rather bizarrely, Sarfaraz Khan, who my numbers don't have as a bad player, and is at a good age for further improvement, but one that is certainly not ready to take this tournament by storm.

My pre-tournament data on the Royal Challengers Bangalore looked like this:-

Royal Challengers Bangalore

Overseas/Domestic

Expected IPL Batting Average

Expected IPL Batting Strike Rate

Expected IPL Bowling Average

Expected IPL Bowling Economy

Expected IPL Bowling Strike Rate








Virat Kohli

DOMESTIC

61.19

144.40

N/A

N/A

N/A

AB De Villiers

OVERSEAS

46.35

165.48

N/A

N/A

N/A

Sarfaraz Khan

DOMESTIC

20.61

137.43

N/A

N/A

N/A

Brendon McCullum

OVERSEAS

27.63

144.13

N/A

N/A

N/A

Manan Vohra

DOMESTIC

26.38

128.17

N/A

N/A

N/A

Mandeep Singh

DOMESTIC

30.86

127.69

27.72

8.14

20.43

Chris Woakes

OVERSEAS

20.05

126.71

21.85

8.51

15.41

Colin de Grandhomme

OVERSEAS

21.05

164.90

50.19

9.41

32.00

Moeen Ali

OVERSEAS

25.75

143.47

34.04

8.05

25.37

Corey Anderson

OVERSEAS

28.79

137.53

45.15

8.76

30.92

Pawan Negi

DOMESTIC

21.13

134.57

23.50

7.81

18.05

Washington Sundar

DOMESTIC

31.61

123.86

21.25

6.81

18.72

Pavan Deshpande

DOMESTIC

26.82

128.56

44.97

9.07

29.75

Aniruddha Joshi

DOMESTIC

29.91

141.90

N/A

N/A

N/A

Quinton De Kock

OVERSEAS

30.95

132.80

N/A

N/A

N/A

Parthiv Patel

DOMESTIC

25.64

136.23

N/A

N/A

N/A

Yuzvendra Chahal

DOMESTIC

3.35

45.66

23.20

8.36

16.65

Umesh Yadav

DOMESTIC

9.69

124.04

23.85

8.64

16.56

Tim Southee

OVERSEAS

13.13

177.68

32.83

8.61

22.86

Mohammed Siraj

DOMESTIC

2.50

76.21

25.85

9.29

16.70

Navdeep Saini

DOMESTIC

18.58

105.69

36.95

7.00

31.67

Aniket Choudhary

DOMESTIC

6.98

91.06

26.99

8.60

18.83

Kulwant Khejroliya

DOMESTIC

3.29

162.11

33.00

7.71

25.68

Murugan Ashwin

DOMESTIC

17.37

104.96

25.83

8.30

18.67


Here we can see that in Kohli and De Villiers, RCB have two batsmen of immense quality, and a number of other batsmen or all-rounders who are competent at this level, including the domestic players Manan Zohra, Mandeep Singh, Pawan Negi, Washington Sundar, Pavan Deshpande and Aniruddha Joshi, as well as wicket-keeper Parthiv Patel.  

With this in mind - particularly with the batting depth afforded by some all-rounders such as Negi and Sundar - the batting collapses which were a feature of last year's IPL campaign should have been a thing of the past.

Bowling wise, Sundar should have been an excellent signing.  While some people were worried about 'second season' syndrome, it was very unlikely for the spinner - his numbers in the lower-level domestic T20 in India have been truly phenomenal for 18 months or so - and last season's performances were not remotely a flash in the pan.  His batting has also shown demonstrable improvement from a strike rate perspective and I'd be amazed if he doesn't become a world-class all-rounder for years to come, regardless of this season.

Perhaps a worry would have been their bowling economy, with few players having an expected bowling economy of less than 8, and the likes of Corey Anderson, Colin de Grandhomme and Mohammad Siraj exhibiting expected economy numbers far worse than average.  Even Umesh Yadav, Chris Woakes and Tim Southee had expected economy of around the 8.5 runs per over mark, so it was fairly evident that RCB would need to put big totals on the board in order to have a reasonable chance of defending them.  

However, this was something that their batting line-up should have been more than capable of - despite losing Chris Gayle and KL Rahul to Kings XI.

So why have they failed to improve on last year's dismal showing?

1) Number of players & inconsistency of selection.

RCB have used 19 players so far in nine matches in the IPL, and only CSK (20 in 10 matches) have used more.

Despite this, a closer look at their squads shows that RCB only have seven players who have played 7+ matches, while CSK have nine.  CSK have a lot of players who have played one or two matches, while RCB have many who have played three or four.

What does this indicate?  Coach Daniel Vettori and captain Virat Kohli probably don't know their best team, and often make knee-jerk reactions regarding selection, chopping and changing players on a regular basis.

We've seen before that teams using a smaller group of quality players, who know their best team, perform best in T20 leagues, and it is unforgivable if decision-makers have little idea of their best team.

2) Overseas signings weren't good enough.

RCB's overseas players, with the exception of AB de Villiers and arguably Chris Woakes, don't offer a considerable upgrade over the domestic options.

The entire point of signing overseas players is that they offer extra quality to domestic talent, but Brendon McCullum, Colin de Grandhomme, Moeen Ali, Corey Anderson, Quinton de Kock and Tim Southee are all barely better than the average IPL player, and not much better than the domestic options that RCB have.

McCullum's issues have been already discussed by me here - nothing has changed since - while Anderson and de Grandhomme strike me as effectively being 'luxury players'.  Effectively, they aren't good enough (at this level) to be a top order batsman, and they can't be relied on to bowl four overs consistently, or at the death either.  Similar players in this 'luxury player' bracket include Carlos Brathwaite and Ben Cutting. They all have pretty similar data.  

The fact that three New Zealand players have been signed by RCB - and played regularly - is unlikely to be a coincidence, given coach Vettori's nationality.  'Jobs for the boys' is nothing new in the IPL - Australian coaches managed this to a huge extent in the early years, but it certainly doesn't help results on the field.

3) Unfair dropping of Chris Woakes.

Woakes has solid expected data for an all-rounder, with very similar expected batting average to bowling average, and while his batting strike rate is mediocre, he's a decent option, as he proved last season.

Without doubt, I'd pick him without hesitation over Anderson and de Grandhomme, despite being a little less explosive with the bat - he's much better with the ball - but after five matches, he was jettisoned from the team.

In those five matches with the ball, Woakes went for 190 runs in 18.2 overs (economy 10.36) which is, of course, expensive, but his eight wickets picked up in those matches is still second on the RCB bowler charts - ahead of Chahal (7 wickets in 9 matches), Siraj (4 in 6) and Sundar (4 in 7).  

A closer look at Woakes' data indicates he was picked apart against Rajasthan (32 runs in 2 death overs) by Jos Buttler and Sanju Samson, 15 in 1 death over against Kieron Polland and Hardik Pandya in the match against Mumbai, and 31 runs in 2 death overs against Rishabh Pant and Rahul Tewatia in his final match this season, against Delhi.

Sure - he's gone for 78 runs in these five death overs, but look at the calibre of player that he's bowled to.  I'd argue that he's been very unlucky to match up against death batsmen of such explosive hitting ability in these five death overs.

Take these 78 runs in five overs away, and his economy is a more respectable 8.42 runs per over.  His overall figures certainly do not flatter him, and he should be restored to the RCB line-up.

4) Bowling in general, and pace bowling in particular.

RCB's death bowling data has been well documented by others, so I'll move on to their pace and spin bowling percentages.  

Overall, their pace options have bowled 77.2 overs, picking up 20 wickets for the cost of 748 runs.

These average (37.40) and economy (9.69) figures are atrocious, and give some insight into where RCB have struggled.  I had to look twice at my screen yesterday when I saw Mohammed Siraj was nominated for the emerging player category - four wickets in six matches at 9.22 runs per over doesn't strike me as being particularly deserving.

RCB's spinners have done better so far, although their data certainly isn't anything special, costing 8.43 runs per over at an average of 29.25, and given that Kohli has chosen to bowl spin overs 55.73% of the time - far in excess of any worldwide league spin over percentage - it is utterly evident he has little faith in most of his quick bowling options.

5) Mis-use of Washington Sundar.

Washington Sundar's breakthrough season came when playing for Rising Pune Supergiant last year, although it was evident to anyone who studied his data in lower-profile T20 matches in India that he was a superstar in the making.

Steve Smith, captain of Pune last season, used Sundar in a markedly different way to Virat Kohli has this year.  Often, Washington Sundar was asked to open an end, bowling in the first or second over of an innings. Last season for Pune, he bowled six overs for a combined total of 24 runs (4.00 economy), which was obviously an astounding success.

When Sundar bowled in overs 3-6 for Pune, he was much more expensive, going for 98 runs in 12 overs (8.17 runs per over), so getting a cheap over out of him at the start of the innings looks a decent plan for a captain to adopt.

How many times has he bowled the first or second over for RCB?  Once, and he conceded just one run, further improving his data for bowling in the 1st or 2nd over of a T20 innings.  

He's bowled five other overs in the powerplay for RCB - remember, he was much more expensive for Pune in overs 3-6 last season too - and went for 76 runs (economy 15.20).  In fact, his data for Pune and RCB makes for rather similar reading.  Bowl him one over to open an end, but don't do so after that in the powerplay.  

Sundar's main other strength is the middle overs, particularly overs 7-13.  For Pune last year, he bowled 11 overs between overs 7-13, conceding 61 runs (an impressive 5.55 economy rate) while at RCB this year, he's bowled 10 overs in this over bracket, going for 79 runs (a still solid 7.90 economy rate).

Analysis of his data makes a standard srategy pretty simple - get one over out of Sundar to open an end, and then bowl him out in overs 7-13.  Given his numbers for Pune in overs 3-6 were poor last season, it makes me wonder why no-one in the RCB 'brains trust' was able to pick up on such a simple fact.

6) Kohli's batting.

In normal circumstances, Kohli's batting data this season so far (357 runs at 51.00, and strike rate 135.74) would be lauded, and it's worth noting that it is markedly better than Kane Williamson, who is getting plenty of (in my opinion unjust) praise for his role at SRH currently.

However, Kohli has the benefit of playing home matches at the extremely batting-friendly Chinnaswamy stadium, and he must take this into account when pacing his innings and considering par totals.

His strike rate this year is actually less than the IPL mean this season so far.  After the double-header on Saturday (5th May), the mean IPL batsman strike rate is 138.53.  Given Kohli's obvious ability with the bat, the fact that he's playing at the Chinnaswamy stadium on a regular basis, and the obvious issues with the RCB pace bowlers, he really needs to up his strike rate from around 135 to at least 150, at the bare minimum.  

It could certainly be argued that Kohli's strike rate deficiencies are costing RCB runs with the bat currently.

7) Kohli's captaincy.

It's difficult to know whether the captain or coach has more influence regarding picking teams, but obviously the captain has more influence than the coach when the match is in progress, particularly regarding bowling decisions and field setting.

Opposition teams have been able to attack the RCB bowling with virtual impunity - they've conceded over 200 on three occasions already so far - and while it's difficult to identify whether his field placings are optimal (there is very little in the way of analytics about regarding this), his bowling decisions - such as bowling Corey Anderson at the death - have often been very strange indeed.

8) Coach Daniel Vettori.

I am genuinely amazed that Vettori has not come under more pressure.

He fits the ideal perceived stereotype - a studious-looking high-profile ex-player - but as the table below illustrates, his record as a coach is not remotely impressive:-


Completed Matches

Wins

Win %





Brisbane Heat, 2015-16

8

3

37.50

Brisbane Heat, 2016-17

9

5

55.56

Brisbane Heat, 2017-18

10

4

40.00

Brisbane Heat, Overall

27

12

44.44

Middlesex, 2017

12

5

41.67

Royal Challengers Bangalore, 2014

14

5

35.71

Royal Challengers Bangalore, 2015

14

8

57.14

Royal Challengers Bangalore, 2016

16

9

56.25

Royal Challengers Bangalore, 2017

14

3

21.43

Royal Challengers Bangalore, 2018

9

3

33.33

Royal Challengers Bangalore, Overall

67

28

41.79

All Teams

106

45

42.45


At no team has he a combined win percentage of over 45%, and he'd need to win 16 matches in a row to have a 50% career win-loss record (122-61).

Despite this, Vettori has just been signed by Rajshahi Kings - another franchise who have made a lot of questionable strategy decisions in the past - to lead them in the 2018 BPL, and it seems that despite a record with more failure than success, he is highly regarded as a coach in the cricket world.

If cricket is to become more meritocratic, coaches (as well as captains and players) need to have much more accountability for failure.  We've seen in numerous sports (baseball and soccer in particular) that high-profile ex-players often do not make good coaches, and it's naturally logical considering that they're often not high achievers from an academic perspective.

Asking an ex-player with little in the way of academic qualifications to become a coach is similar to asking the best till-worker or shelf-stacker in a supermarket to become CEO of the company, simply because they are good at their current job.  Until cricket embraces baseball's movement towards hiring General Managers who didn't play the game, as journalist Tim Wigmore superbly discussed here in his recent article, teams will continue to fail.


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