Tonight, the two cellar-dwellers of the Indian Premier League will meet at Kingsmead in Durban. Given their poor performances so far, both ought to make changes to their team, but going on past history, this might not happen.
Bangalore have batted poorly in all three matches so far, and only the inept batting of Rajasthan in the first match gave a veneer of apparent respectability. Not that they bowling has been impressive either, having conceded more than 180 runs in both of their last two matches. Although the final margin of defeat against the Deccan Chargers looked mild, it was padded by some freewheeling hitting once the game had already passed beyond reach.
Their foreign imports have struggled, particularly with the bat. Kevin Pietersen and Jacques Kallis have managed only 62 runs in five innings between them, which looks positively monumental in comparison to the solitary run that Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder have cobbled together in three innings. In fact, Pietersen and Ryder have contributed more with the ball than with bat, while Dale Steyn has continued his run of inconsistent displays in the shorter formats.
That the star overseas batsmen have failed has been plain to see, but it also gave the Indian talent to shine. Even when Shaun Marsh averaged almost 70 last year, he did fail on occasions, forcing the others to either perform or be exposed. In the case of Bangalore, their sixth and seventh Indians have failed on all three occasions.
In the three matches that Bangalore have played so far, Rahul Dravid, Virat Kohli, Robin Uthappa, Anil Kumble and Praveen Kumar have been the five domestic players whose positions were not gifted by the domestic quota. In contrast, the remaining two places, which have been shared by Balachandra Akhil, R Vinay Kumar, Rajesh Bishnoi and Karan Sharma, have effectively reduced the Challengers to playing with nine men. Together they have totalled 24 runs at 4.80 and taken 0/37 from four overs. In effect, Bangalore have been playing with the equivalent of two Glenn McGraths, both of whom have a broken arm and cannot bowl.
Almost any change will do, as it could barely be worse. Shreevats Goswami impressed in the few opportunities he received last year, while Roelof van der Merwe has starred for South Africa in the recent series against Australia and has a strong record in domestic cricket with both bat and ball. With spinners being prominent in the IPL so far, van der Merwe’s selection would be shrewd move in particular.
Punjab are also likely to be hobbled by the same weaknesses in their upcoming matches, unless their middle-lower order are continually saved by the rain. Not that the rain will do them any good either, as their top-order is significantly weaker than those possessed by most of their opponents and shortened matches place more of the responsibility on the openers. If the rain stays away, and Punjab persist with the same structure as in the opening matches, then they could be relentlessly exposed unless the triumvirate of Yuvraj Singh, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara flood South Africa with runs. With Shaun Marsh injuring himself again while playing for Australia on Wednesday, it’s unlikely that they will get much reinforcement in the second half of the tournament, so their lesser players need to get used to the responsibility from the outset.
Punjab have even less depth in their Indian stocks than Bangalore, or more accurately, they are choosing some rather weak players when vastly stronger options sit on the bench. So far, Taruwar Kohli, VRV Singh and Vikramjeet Malik have played in both matches. Despite the matches being curtailed, they have only added 1 run and taken 1/39 from four overs, an even weaker return than Banglore’s duo given that they have three.
The selection of the trio is rather perplexing, especially given the alternatives. Kohli has only played one season at domestic level, and has only made sporadic appearances for Punjab. Given that his averages 31 in List A and 26 in first-class matches, it’s not surprising that he hasn’t played regularly. What is hard to understand is why he is being chosen ahead of Tanmay Srivastava, who was Uttar Pradesh’s top-scorer last season, or Uday Kaul, Punjab’s Ranji Trophy wicket-keeper. Both are under 22, have vastly superior batting records to Kohli in both this season and in the long term. Kaul has averaged beyond fifty in both forms of cricket for the past two seasons and provides the additional option of being able to take the gloves if Sangakkara is injured mid-match. In one match last season, Chennai were able to have Parthiv Patel take over from Mahendra Singh Dhoni after a mid-match injury. Kohli needs to be replaced by either Srivastava or Kaul.
With Jerome Taylor and Brett Lee still injured, Punjab’s pace battery is the weakest in the competition by some distance. That Irfan Pathan is by far the best seamer says enough about their strength, which is why Romesh Powar’s omission despite being a key plank in Mumbai’s Ranji Trophy win this year is difficult to fathom. Why choose four pacemen when so many are far below the mark? With the success of Daniel Vettori and Pragyan Ojha so far, two finger spinners who like to flight the ball, Punjab should give Powar a chance. His agility in the field is nothing less than an embarrassment, but when his colleagues are being launched into the crowd with such regularity, it makes little difference.
In tonight’s battle at the bottom, fortune could well favour the brave.