Before the start of this year’s Indian Premier League, Royal Challengers Bangalore head coach Simon Katich was confident of the strength of his bowling attack. He reckoned the variety they possessed would help them go far in a long tournament like the IPL. He also was excited at the prospect of unleashing the many quality young Indian bowlers at his disposal.
“The history of the IPL suggests that players make a name for themselves with impactful performances in this tournament. And I think we have players in our squad who can do that,” Katich had said.
Ten games into their season, the RCB coach must surely be satisfied by the way things are going. Against Kolkata Knight Riders on Wednesday, his bowling unit showed its might with a ruthless performance.
With Mohammed Siraj leading the way, the Royal Challengers restricted KKR to a mere 84 runs in 20 overs. In the history of the IPL, this was the lowest total by any team that batted the full quota of overs without getting all-out. On a pitch that had no demons in it, the RCB bowlers proved to be unstoppable.
Siraj makes it count
Bangalore’s bowlers wasted no time in stamping their authority on the match once KKR skipper Eoin Morgan won the toss and made the fateful decision of batting first. And the wrecker-in-chief was Siraj, a man determined to make amends after a disappointing IPL 2019.
The 26-year-old right-arm quick played nine matches for RCB last season, returning with just seven wickets and an economy-rate of 9.55. And it was against KKR that he faced one of his lowest points when he dropped a sitter at the fence as RCB failed to defend 204.
However, in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, Siraj grabbed his opportunity with both hands after being handed the new ball. With his third delivery, he got the outside edge of Rahul Tripathi’s bat thanks to a wonderful out-swinger. But the best was yet to come.
The next man in was Nitish Rana, and Siraj had a clear plan. He revealed after the game that captain Kohli asked him to start off with a bouncer against the left-hander, but he stuck to his guns and ended up producing the ball of the match. It was pitched full and swung in dramatically to knock back the stumps.
Siraj then went on to remove the dangerous Tom Banton and by the end of his second over, he had not conceded a single run and picked up three wickets. He became the first player to bowl two maiden overs in an IPL match as KKR found themselves in a hole they wouldn’t recover from.
“I’ve always had a lot of support from the RCB setup,” said Siraj in the post-match press conference. “All I wanted to do this year was give a magical performance. I wanted to do something different this year. Whenever I used to think about my performance in IPL 2020 (before the tournament), I had made up my mind that I will deliver a performance to remember.”
Firing as a unit
While Siraj indeed deserves all the plaudits, the most pleasing aspect for Kohli and Katich will be the complete bowling performance that won them the match against KKR. Chris Morris was economical, Yuzvendra Chahal and Washington Sundar picked up three wickets in total and conceded just 29 runs in their eight overs of spin, and Navdeep Saini chipped in with the key wicket of Shubman Gill.
Over the years, one of the main reasons for RCB’s struggles has been their inability to find answers as a bowling unit. Once they would start getting hit, there would be no stopping it. In the early phase of this season, too, RCB were struggling to find options. The likes of Umesh Yadav, Dale Steyn and Adam Zampa failed to deliver and it seemed the men in red were in for a long tournament once again.
But slowly and steadily, Bangalore’s bowling department has settled into a nice rhythm. One important change for them has been the arrival of Morris. The South African pacer has been on the money from the get-go, and RCB have now won four of the five matches he has played.
With Chahal providing stability, Sundar and Saini being consistent, and now Siraj raising his hand, Royal Challengers Bangalore seem to finally have a bowling attack worth relying on.