IPL 2023: RCB face top-order conundrum with Rajat Patidar’s unavailability in first half of the season. Patidar scored 333 runs from 8 games at an average of 55.5 in IPL 2022 season.
"Ee Sala Cup Namade," Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) slogan, might have just taken a little detour to become “Ee Sala Injury Namade” given the series of injuries their marquee players have sustained. As per reports, apart from the injuries to Josh Hazelwood and Will Jacks and the delay in the arrival of Wanindu Hasaranga, the newest addition to the list of doubtful players in the first few weeks of Indian Premier League (IPL) 2023 is Rajat Patidar.
RCB’s emerging talent Patidar, discovered in 2022, has been hit by a heel injury in the RCB pre-season training camp and will undergo rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru until a go ahead is provided to the rising superstar.
Patidar, who wasn’t a direct choice for the RCB squad, was only roped in as a replacement for injured wicketkeeper-batter Luvnith Sisodia. Patidar rose to prominence during the 2022 season when he outperformed himself with two sensational knocks under pressure. A terrific 54-ball 112* to help RCB reach Eliminator 2 was the highlight of Patidar’s quantum leap. What was heartening to see for an Indian fan was not just the runs he scored, but Patidar’s calmness under pressure on the big stage. He was the third-highest run scorer behind Faf du Plessis and Virat Kohli, scoring 24.87 per cent of the team’s total runs in IPL 2022. Patidar could not only absorb the pressure and rotate the strike but also don the long handle whenever needed to tonk bowlers out of the park.
Patidar’s injury results in top-order conundrum for RCB
It was just a matter of time before RCB's poor auction strategy during the 2023 IPL mini-auction was brought into broad daylight. Unavailability or injury to any marquee player would mean a serious lack of depth in bench strength for the men who like to play bold. Lack of domestic talent and over-dependence on foreign players has been an age-old problem for the Bengaluru franchise. With the Impact Player rule coming into equation, the bench strength would be tested even further than ever before.
RCB would be forced to push Virat Kohli to number three again to accommodate Anuj Rawat as an opener with Faf du Plessis. Out of the total 129 runs scored in eight innings by Rawat, 125 came in the first five and only four in the last three. So, as the crucial matches approach, Rawat quietly sneaked out. The other option for RCB would be to possibly experiment with Suyash Prabudessai at number three. Suyash, who looked promising with his reverse laps and sweeps in the limited chances he got, and Rajat’s injury could also open the door for Finn Allen who has been striking the ball absolutely brilliantly in the ongoing ODI series between New Zealand and Sri Lanka. But again, this could possibly mean Kohli sacrificing his opening slot or RCB gambling with Finn Allen at number three, who is known to peel the leather of the cricket ball inside the powerplay. But Allen's inclusion will mean he can only bat and will not be able to contribute in any other way except as an Impact Player to be switched by a possible foreign bowler in the second innings.
The stairway to heaven also opens up for Michael Bracewell, who absolutely clobbered the Indian bowlers in the ODI series against India. This could very well be a blessing in disguise, as RCB can go with Bracewell at the top with Faf for a left-right combination with a licence for Bracewell to drive the team with a 200+ strike rate. In this way, RCB can also bring Bracewell’s finger spin into the play in the hot and humid Indian conditions, which favour spin during April-May.
What does Patidar’s absence do to RCB’s composition?
Patidar’s purple run with bat in hand at number three meant the RCB could give the licence to Virat Kohli to hit the ball running right from ball one as an opener, along with Faf du Plessis. Since Patidar had the mentality to absorb pressure like a shock absorber, even if RCB lost two early wickets, he could still sustain a meaningful partnership with the middle and lower order. Which is what happened in the Eliminator 1 against the Lucknow Super Giants when the RCB were in trouble at 3-85. Patidar’s sensible use of strike rotation, along with finding the gaps and using the long handle, along with some finishing touches provided by Dinesh Karthik, meant RCB closed on 207 runs in an all-important knockout game.
Injury to any potential Indian batter only means the RCB has to be prepared with Anuj Rawat at the top. Because if they bring in Michael Bracewell or Finn Allen, their four overseas options go for a toss and will expose their even more fragile bowling combination in the absence of Josh Hazelwood. That’s the problem with a fragile bench. And RCB will mostly face the brunt of the issue as this is going to be a long tournament, and under the 35+ degree hot and humid conditions of India, players are bound to get fatigued. Missing out on any of the starting eleven players will only further change the entire balance of the squad, right from the top order to the overseas combination and the bowling combination as well.
"Ee Sala Cup Namade?"
A perfect chicken and egg situation is at the doors of RCB management with less than a week until IPL 2023 kicks off. As the cricketing pundits had predicted, lack of local talent would only mean multiple chopping and switching of players and their pre-defined roles before the season. When the doors of opportunity close for one, they open up for others, and that will be the case with the RCB this year with Patidar’s injury. Either of Anuj Rawat or Mahipal Lomror might just get an extended run of luck even if they perform below par until Patidar is match-fit again. The Impact Player rule will definitely impact the RCB, as they will be forced to only switch foreign players due to the lack of bench strength among Indian domestic players.
RCB start their 2023 campaign with a match against their new-age rivals, the Mumbai Indians, on April 2, 2023, at their home ground, Chinnaswamy Stadium, after four long years at the said venue. Will RCB be able to finally roar the "Ee Sala Cup Namade" slogan at the top of Chinnaswamy, or will it be just yet another heartbreaking season in bits and pieces? Only time will tell.
RCB’s best possible XI in the first week of IPL 2023
Faf du Plessis, Finn Allen/Michael Bracewell, Virat Kohli, Mahipal Lomror, Glenn Maxwell, Dinesh Karthik, Shahbaz Ahmed, Harshal Patel, David Willey, Karn Sharma, Mohammed Siraj
Possible Impact Players – Michael Bracewell, Reece Topley, Siddharth Kaul