Five games, five defeats. This is how a promising Royal Challengers Bangalore season finally came to nothing. In each of those last five games, the Royal Challengers hit first, posting totals of 145, 164, 120, 152 and 131. And as much as their pitchers tried to keep them in the game, they just didn’t have enough runs to defend, with only two of these matches reaching the final.

Something clearly went terribly wrong with the Royal Challengers hitting. But what and why? How did a team that won seven of its first ten games disintegrate so spectacularly?

According to Mike Hesson, director of cricket for the Royal Challengers, the drop was caused by the inability of batsmen to adapt to the slowing of pitches as the tournament progressed.

“The reality is that the grounds slowed down and as a hitting group we didn’t adapt quickly enough, and when you don’t score enough runs, you put a lot of pressure on your bowling unit,” Hesson said in a media interaction. on Saturday. “The last five games, we hit first, [and] On all surfaces we struggle to adapt, we struggle to be able to apply any pressure on our opposition, we keep losing ground trying to force our case, so you basically end up crawling over the line a bit from a batting point of view, getting scoring below par and then scrapping hard.

“And the fact that we’ve had to scrap every game, the last four or five, certainly highlighted the fact that we were struggling on the slower surfaces as the tournament progressed.

“The first ten rounds, when there was a lot of rhythm on the surfaces, as a batting unit we were very good. In death we were the second best team, in powerplay I think we were second or third, in the middle we were more or less at half, and as the tournament progressed, we fell into those phases, but that was in a nutshell the story of the last five games. “

On the surface, Hesson’s reading seems accurate. The Royal Challengers were in fact the second highest scoring team in the death overs until the end of their tenth game of the season, and the third fastest in powerplay, but second from the bottom in the middle overs.

Then they just fell off a cliff, particularly in death overs (their middle-overs score rate actually improved marginally in the latter part of the tournament).

But did cracks suddenly arise in the Royal Challengers’ hitting drive after Game 10, or did they exist throughout the tournament, initially disguised by the acts of genius? Look at the death numbers in the graph above and think about this game, this game, this game, and this one. Would any of them have won the Royal Challengers without AB de Villiers?

Four wins out of seven, due in large part to the efforts of one man. And even de Villiers cannot keep such a shape forever. The Royal Challengers’ decline towards the end of their campaign can be largely attributed to De Villiers returning to mean. In his first ten games of the season, he hit six times in death overs and was only eliminated twice in 69 balls. In his last five games, he was sacked three times on 16 balls in three innings.

A team can’t depend so much on one hitter. Or even two. Virat Kohli’s approach to T20 has been widely debated, but when it comes down to death over, he usually makes it count. In the early and happy phase of the Royal Challengers season, he reached the death overs four times in 10 innings, and scored 88 runs on 40 balls (220.00 strike rate) while being fired once.

In his last five games, Kohli only got into death overs once, scoring 17 of 11 balls in the phase against the Chennai Super Kings, having scored 33 of his first 32 balls.

That kind of start was typical of Kohli’s season, and the Royal Challengers were prepared to embrace it given the death reward it can offer. But did they organize the rest of their hitting well enough to complement those slow starts?

Simon Katich, his head coach, certainly believes it.

“One thing we tried to do with our batting order was to structure it so that the guys who hit in consistent pairs complemented each other,” Katich said. “There are guys who are strong maybe against pacing, and other guys who are strong against spin to complement each other at different stages of innings, so it’s harder for the opposition captains to put down the innings.

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“We see that in games where two similar players hit together and an opposition captain can win a spell of three or four more of the game with a certain type of bowling, so we were very aware of that, and hence the reason why it was games where we brought lefties into the fold to divide our righties at the top, which we obviously had, with three out of the top four, in [Aaron] Finch, Kohli and de Villiers.

“Practically at T20, the hitting has to be adaptable and flexible, because the nature of the game situation dictates how you have to play, whether you’re hitting first or chasing and when you enter the fray. So there are no real positions set at T20. many times, it’s about how you have to face a certain confrontation and try to make it as difficult as possible for the captain of the opposition. “

That flexibility, however, wasn’t always apparent when it came to De Villiers’ batting position. He hit No. 4 in all but two of his innings, regardless of when the second wicket fell. And he ended up in a rigidly fixed position in his final six innings of the season, after the Royal Challengers made the widely debated decision to promote a pair of lefties, Washington Sundar and Shivam Dube, over him to face the two legs in the attack of Kings XI Punjab.

“We certainly tried [promoting the left-handers] in Sharjah against Kings XI knowing full well that they had both legs bowling at that stage of the game, “said Katich.” Unfortunately, the execution of that plan probably meant that we faced a lot of criticism about it, because it left AB de Villiers did not hit as much as we would have liked, and we also did not get the runs that we would have liked in that phase, in which we promoted to Sundar and Dube. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the actual idea of ​​the plan. “

“The grounds slowed down and as a hitting group we didn’t adapt quickly enough, and when you don’t score enough runs, you put a lot of pressure on your bowling unit.”

Mike Hesson, RCB Cricket Director

There wasn’t, but the criticism they received for the move dissuaded the Royal Challengers from trying again, even in situations that seemed to be crying out for it.

In the game against the Super Kings in Dubai, Kohli and de Villiers scored a combined 68 on 62 balls against Ravindra Jadeja, Mitchell Santner and Imran Tahir, all of whom deflected the ball from the right-hander. Moeen Ali, a left-handed hitter with a 169.36 T20 hit rate against the leg twist and orthodox left arm prior to that game, and a much more proven performer than Sundar or Dube, didn’t come out to hit until 18th.

Moeen did not play another game until the Eliminator against Sunrisers Hyderabad, when the Royal Challengers made two major changes to their batting lineup. It felt like a belated acknowledgment of the problems that had plagued the team throughout the tournament, especially in the intermissions. Kohli, who had struggled to find the limit through the middle over all season, started alongside Devdutt Padikkal to try to make use of the power play field restrictions. Moeen, who boasted the best intermediate strike rate (176.51) of all Royal Challengers hitters since the 2018 season, returned to the team.

According to Katich, Moeen was ready to hit No. 3 to target Rashid Khan and Shahbaz Nadeem’s combination of leg twist / left arm twist. But the Royal Challengers lost two wickets within the first four overs, and the plan was frozen. Moeen finally came in at 11 and ran off the first ball he faced, a free throw.

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“There was a period, if we hadn’t lost a window earlier [in the Eliminator], Moeen probably would have hit three, had he gotten into the back of the power play or right after the power play, so the timing of the grounds probably changed the look of our batting lineup, “Katich said.

“We were taking the aggressive option, actually, by moving Virat to the top of the order to try to get him into the game, to positively influence the game. That didn’t happen, I mean that’s the way it played out. No. you often find someone [Kohli] caught on the side of the leg and someone else ran off a free throw with no ball, so that’s the way the game goes sometimes, and it didn’t come out like us. “

It didn’t come out like them, but it might as well have done it if the Royal Challengers had made those decisions earlier in the tournament and acted more proactively to address intermediate issues.