Going into the inaugural edition of the Women’s Premier League, many predicted the Royal Challengers Bangalore to be one of the contenders to win the title.

Who wouldn’t when the team boasted of stars like captain Smriti Mandhana, Ellyse Perry, Heather Knight and Sophie Devine along with Indian stars Renuka Singh and Richa Ghosh.

However, RCB had a horror start to the season. They were at the receiving end of Meg Lanning-Shafali Verma opening masterclass as the duo scored 162 runs in just 14 overs as the Delhi Capitals posted 223/2 — the highest score of the tournament.

In response, they were bundled out for 163 runs as associate player Tara Norris ran through the middle order. In the next match, eventual champions Mumbai Indians romped to a comfortable nine-wicket win thanks to a Hayley Matthews and Nat Sciver-Brunt blitzkrieg.

Those losses knocked the wind out of RCB’s sails as they lost their following three matches, including a 10-wicket loss to the UP Warriorz, to all but end their hopes of securing a playoff berth as they finished fourth on net run rate ahead of the Gujarat Giants.

Injuries and withdrawals

Going into the WPL 2024 auction, RCB parted ways with coach Ben Sawyer and appointed Adelaide Strikers’ Women’s Big Bash League-winning coach Luke Williams as head coach.

England captain Heather Knight withdrew from the tournament to prepare her national side’s limited overs series against New Zealand in March. Kanika Ahuja, who led RCB to their first win last season, also withdrew with an injury.

RCB have signed South African all rounder Nadine de Klerk to replace Knight while Maharashtra batter Shraddha Pokharkar has replaced Ahuja.

Strength and weaknesses

Playing in front of their home crowd in Bengaluru is going to be RCB’s biggest advantage. RCB boasts perhaps the most passionate and vocal set of fans of all WPL teams thanks to its Indian Premier League counterpart.

The likes of Mandhana, Perry, Devine and Ghosh would be licking their chops at the prospect of playing in the batting-friendly confines of the M Chinnaswamy. RCB have put faith in their star batters adding the young Subha Sateesh to the lineup.

RCB lacked a quality spinner last season which they have addressed by adding the Australian spinner Georgia Wareham and Sophie Molineux. The duo boast economy rates of around six and provide RCB with a measure of control in the middle overs.

RCB are short of a quality seamer after releasing Australian seamer Megan Schutt. There were a lot of hopes for Indian pacer Renuka Singh last season but she had a poor outing picking up only one wicket while conceding over nine runs per over.

RCB have put their faith in Singh to lead the pace attack and will be relying on Perry and Devine to chip in with crucial overs. England pacer Kate Cross and De Klerk can provide depth in the pace bowling unit with one of the two likely to feature in the starting XI.

Devine, Perry and Wareham will be expected to take up three of the four overseas spots in the starting XI with the final place to be a toss up between De Klerk, Cross and Molineux. The latter two are better suited to the longer formats of the game so expect De Klerk to pinch the final spot on account of her pinch hitting ability down the order.

Players to watch out for

Shreyanka Patil: The 21-year-old bowler was the lone bright spot in an underwhelming campaign for RCB last season. She finished as the top wicket-taker for the team and broke into the India’s limited overs sides. The prospect of playing in her home city will only add to Patil’s desire to be her team’s X-factor player.

Shubha Sateesh: Another Bengaluru native expected to stand out, Shubha made her Test debut against England in December last year. Under pressure, the 24-year-old left-hand batter steadied the Indian ship with fellow debutant Jemimah Rodrigues and posted a 76-ball 69. That she can also bowl a bit will give RCB and Mandhana more wiggle room with team selection.

Current squad: Smriti Mandhana, Asha Shobna, Disha Kasat, Ellyse Perry*, Nadine de Klerk*, Indrani Roy, Shradda Pokharkar, Renuka Singh, Richa Ghosh, Shreyanka Patil, Sophie Devine*, Georgia Wareham*, Ekta Bisht, Kate Cross*, Shubha Sateesh, S Meghna, Simran Bahadur, Sophie Molineux*

— * denotes overseas player

Predicted XI: Smriti Mandhana, Sophie Devine*, Shubha Sateesh, Ellyse Perry*, Richa Ghosh, Nadine de Klerk*, Georgia Wareham*, Shreyanka Patil, Asha Shobna, Disha Kasat, Renuka Singh