DC vs RCB– The 55th match of the IPL 2020 tournament between RCB and Delhi Capitals will be a massive one for either team with qualification hanging on a thread for both sides. In our game plan for DC vs RCB, we have a guest, Prasanna Raman, who takes us through AB de Villiers the T20 player and how teams ought to use him.
DC vs RCB – The AB de Villiers way of doing it as explained by Prasanna Raman
Sharjah had been a batting paradise for teams in the early half of IPL 2020 and in the game between Kings XI Punjab and Royal Challengers Bangalore, a move by the latter invited scything criticism from all quarters. At 62/2 in 6.3 overs, RCB had lost both their openers and instead of sending in their customary no.4, AB de Villiers, they chose to push Washington Sundar up the order. In fact, de Villiers did not come in at no.5 either. He came in to bat for the 17th over and was dismissed for two off five balls in the next few balls.
Was RCB’s tactics of holding back AB de Villiers justified? That Kings XI Punjab had two leg-spinners in Murugan Ashwin and Ravi Bishnoi and AB de Villiers’ supposed weakness against googlies made for the perfect excuse to “hide” de Villiers, yet it was deemed the wrong move and it was never tried again.
Last game against Sunrisers Hyderabad, de Villiers came in at 28/2 in 4.4 overs and appeared all at sea against Rashid Khan before holing out to deep cover off Shahbaz Nadeem in the 11th over. He made 24 at run-a-ball and RCB went on to make just 120 and lost by five wickets.
The big question for RCB this season has been around how to use de Villiers best. The answer to that could open a pandora’s box of T20 match-ups, effectiveness of batsmen in different phases of a T20 innings and a lot of analytics. As someone who has watched de Villiers from close quarters and made an influential decision regarding his role in the South African T20 side, Prasanna Raman, South Africa’s performance analyst explains the batsman’s ideal role.
“It is very simple. De Villiers is a kind of batsman who doesn’t need the time to settle down. Most top batsmen take a few balls to gauge the pitch and conditions. In the middle overs when the bowlers are bowling a negative line to cut down the flow of runs and the field is spread, it becomes difficult to come in and explode from the word go,” Prasanna says in an exclusive chat with CricXtasy.
“When you send him in when the team is under pressure, say at 25/2 in 5 overs etc, you are cutting down on his natural instincts to attack. He might thrive and score big too but it comes with its risks as he would also be mindful of playing to the team’s requirements and consolidating after a collapse.”
This is perhaps justified when looking at de Villiers’ numbers from the 2020 IPL season. The RCB middle-order batsman has faced most balls in the middle overs of the innings (101) while scoring at his lowest pace (a strike-rate of 108.9) in the middle overs.
AB de Villiers in the death
Compare this to de Villiers’ death numbers – a strike-rate of 227.8, the best in the league in the last five overs. He has faced 97 balls in this phase and can be destructive as he showed multiple times in this season, most notably against Rajasthan Royals in an incredible run-chase.
“Against Rajasthan Royals, with two overs and 35 required in the large Dubai ground, de Villiers went berserk and gave RCB a win. People were contemplating what would have happened had Archer bowled the 19th over etc, but the fact is the bowler barely matters for de Villiers at that stage in an innings and he is capable of taking on the best when he knows what exactly he has to do – smash them out of the park,” Prasanna says.
“Against Kings XI Punjab, RCB were criticised immensely for holding de Villiers back for the death overs. A lot of experts, commentators and critics were jumping in on the tactic stating that AB de Villiers should bat more balls. I am telling you, RCB did the perfect thing that game. It may not have clicked, and AB must have failed in the death, but you cannot relate the outcome with the planning. The thinking was spot on.”
“When AB de Villiers walks in after the 12th over in T20s since 2014, he makes an impact [calculations reserved] in 61% of the games.”
While the Punjab game was the right manner in which de Villiers was used, the lack of an expected result and the severe backlash from critics and fans quickly forced RCB to take a step back from the match-ups plan and go for de Villiers – Kohli in tandem in the middle overs.
The issue with this is manifold, but primarily it increases the possibility of de Villiers not batting in the death at all. He is too good a death overs batsman to be used up in the match-up battle in the middle overs.
“He is too powerful and impactful in the death to be wasted in the middle overs. Getting him in for the seventh over is greedy. His mindset would become conservative in such situations naturally as he is mindful of the team situation, and while he is capable of riding through such collapses and lifting the team up, it can also work the other way round and prove to be his and the team’s downfall. The latter is more likely to happen too based on past evidence.”
A glaring example for this is with the South African team itself (where Prasanna Raman was the performance analyst) that was heavily criticised like RCB for holding de Villiers back during the 2014 T20 World Cup. In the semi-final against India then, de Villiers was held back until the 14th over with JP Duminy batting above him and de Villiers was dismissed for 10 to invite a load of criticism.
Russell Domingo, the then head coach of the Proteas team, justified the decision stating that de Villiers was more impactful in the final few overs based on data. The think-tank behind the decision was Prasanna who had first suggested this plan when at RCB to their coach Ray Jennings back in 2012.
“We started it in RCB when Ray Jennings was the coach. I had to convince him that de Villiers could make a bigger impact in the last few overs. If you had a certain score at 12 overs and AB was in, he could double the score in the last eight overs. That’s the kind of skill he has. This was around the time when de Villiers was gaining reputation as a pristine finisher. In a game against Deccan Chargers, 75 runs were required off the last six overs and he was going to face Dale Steyn in his prime. We all know what transpired then.”
“From this carnage, the thinking around de Villiers the T20 player changed. We went to the 2014 T20 World Cup and de Villiers walked in early in the first three games and barely made any impact as he got out cheaply in the middle overs. I then went over and told our coach Russell Domingo that de Villiers shouldn’t be going out before the 11th or 12th over at least no matter what.”
“In a must win game against England, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock put on a solid, quickfire 90-run stand. When the first wicket fell, it was around the 11th over and we felt the time was right for AB to go in. He made a massive impact in the game, scoring 69 in 28 balls. In spite of that carnage, we ended up winning by just three runs.”
AB vs Googly since 2017:
55 runs, 56 balls, 7 dismissals, Average 7.9, SR 98
Nothing troubles AB more. And RCB are trying to save his wicket for the death assault. It may or may not come off, but nothing is dumber than feeding him to 8 overs of googly specialists on a dry deck
— Alagappan Vijayakumar (@IndianMourinho) October 15, 2020
While citing the India semi-final game as an example, few point at the massive success of the plan against England before that in the same tournament. It brings up another relevant T20 question: should your best batsman play the most balls or should he play the balls where he could make the most impact?
“De Villiers might come in at 12/2 in 3 overs and rescue his team with a hundred. But if it fails, you leave yourself with no one nearly as capable of taking the bowlers to the cleaners in the death. If you notice, a lot of de Villiers’ dismissals in the middle overs are soft dismissals where he looks to cut the spinner and chops on or plays a wild heave and gets caught in the deep.
“These kind of soft dismissals are common place in the middle overs when the odd boundary is sought after. You’d rather have him going hammer and tongs in the death when he knows his job is to clear the fence,” Prasanna states while citing another example in the form of Andre Russell.
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“Think of Andre Russell. He hit a six every 4.5 balls or so in the IPL last season. Since the CPL in 2020, he scores a boundary every 9th ball on an average and a six every 10th ball. The issue isn’t technique or anything. It’s his mindset. He cannot be sent in early on and be asked to consolidate or hit consistently for 10-12 overs. That is greediness and curbing the natural instinct of someone as attacking as Russell.”
“You need to make sure the stage is set for de Villiers. Build your team in such a way that you have guys capable of nurdling through such collapses and hand over the baton to de Villiers. More often than not, he will seal the game from there.”
There was a considerable case to promote Moeen Ali over AB de Villiers today.
In the middle overs in IPL after 2018 – an area where #RCB have struggled to score quickly this season – Moeen has the best strike-rate among batsmen to face at least 100 balls. #IPL2020 #RCBvsCSK pic.twitter.com/dz7rvGOEnm
— Stat Doctor🩺 (@stat_doctor) October 25, 2020
The second half of it is where RCB have probably erred. They have a world-beating middle overs batsman in Moeen Ali waiting in the wings and still choose to bench him while struggling to score in the middle overs period, being the worst team with the bat in this phase.
Incidentally, pushing de Villiers in during the middle overs does not boost their run-rate by much either as the South African has been conservative in this phase. So the risk of bringing him in early is multiplied as he is unlikely to score quickly and more than likely to be dismissed. There’s no advantage either way. Rather, the thinking to set him up for the death overs was right and ought to have been persisted with despite the one-off failure.
RCB over-by-over scoring rate in the middle overs in IPL 2020
The venue and conditions in this year’s IPL only further strengthens this case as Prasanna Raman points out. With sluggish wickets and long boundaries, power hitters in the middle-order become valuable as a lot of teams are starting to realise.
“Kieron Pollard for Mumbai, Nicholas Pooran and Chris Gayle for Punjab – previously their no.7 was Chris Jordan, Marcus Stoinis for Delhi. All teams like to have a power hitter in the middle-order in these big grounds as it isn’t always easy to clear them.”
“If you see, of late, Rajasthan Royals demoted Jos Buttler down the order even though they had Tewatia. But he is still proving himself and Buttler’s presence ensures there are more boundary opportunities in the death. In India, the boundaries are small. Here, except in Sharjah, the boundaries are long and you need a power hitter to consistently clear the ropes, especially when the wickets aren’t the quickest. The impact of a player who comes at no.5 or no.6 and makes a 15-ball 30 or 8-ball 25 is heavily underrated.”
Given his extraordinary prowess, de Villiers, given a few overs in the death could take RCB from an ordinary team to real title contenders. But a part of it is also dependent on how they can lay down the platform for him and the right personnel to do so too.