Shahbaz Ahmed

IPL 2021: Was sending Shahbaz Ahmed at 3 a good decision by RCB?

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In a sign of great trust, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) appointed Bengal spin all-rounder Shahbaz Ahmed as their new No.3 batsman for Match 6 of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 against Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH).

Following the toss on Wednesday (April 14), RCB captain Virat Kohli welcomed the return of his team’s first-choice top-order batter Devdutt Padikkal in the line-up and confirmed that he will be opening alongside him. Kohli went on to inform that Shahbaz would be batting at three for the franchise in the encounter. 

Shahbaz had joined the RCB set up ahead of IPL 2020 after being picked for a sum of INR 20 lakhs for the last year’s edition of the marquee T20 league. Shahbaz got the chance to play only 2 games last year and while he didn’t get the opportunity to bat much, the 26-year-old took a couple of wickets while going at 7.33 runs per over.

Shahbaz Ahmed batted at No.6 in RCB’s IPL 2021 opener versus Mumbai Indians (MI). And so, his promotion up the order did leave many people surprised, with the RCB trusting a cricketer for No.3 duties whose record suggests he is more a bowler than a batsman in T20 cricket.

In the 24 matches played in his overall career in the format, Shahbaz Ahmed has taken 21 wickets while conceding just 6.94 runs per over. But he has an average of 20.11 and strike-rate of only 118.3 for 181 runs, which also reflects that Bengal have used him mostly lower down the order.

Shahbaz Ahmed Handed No.3 Duties By Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB)

For the SRH encounter, though, Shahbaz came out to bat No.3. His promotion may have been down to multiple reasons, with one of those possibly being his hundred in an intra-squad warm-up fixture leading into the tournament – an innings where Shahbaz probably gained the confidence of the management and skipper Kohli. And the other, potentially, to allow RCB to play their match-ups well against an SRH attack featuring varied options. As it turned out, it was indeed the latter.

RCB used Patidar to bat No.3 in the MI fixture, with the idea being to preserve their overseas batting stalwarts Glenn Maxwell and AB de Villiers, who could then control the latter half of the innings for their team. The tactic worked for RCB in the previous match as Maxwell and De Villiers produced the goods in the successful run-chase versus MI.

While Patidar couldn’t himself get going and made just 8 off 8 deliveries before being out bowled, he was a bridge in the batting unit and by delaying the arrivals of Maxwell and De Villiers, albeit only for short while, which allowed them to play the match-ups RCB wanted.

Against SRH, in Patidar’s place, RCB employed Shahbaz Ahmed for the same role. Shahbaz attacked SRH left-arm spinner Nadeem for a massive six via a sweep over fine-leg when the opposition looked to sneak in a tight over in the powerplay against Kohli.

Reading the game well, Shahbaz tried to keep Nadeem under pressure. However, he soon mistimed an aggressive swing of the willow through the on-side and was out caught by Rashid Khan in the mid-wicket region for 14 off 10 balls.

Had the left-hander stayed on longer, RCB could’ve used Shahbaz to try and attack Rashid when he came on, especially as he is a bowler that counts as a danger man for Maxwell and De Villiers in terms of match-ups. Nevertheless, the player batted with the right intent and played a quiet role for his team. It’ll be interesting to see if RCB give Shahbaz Ahmed a consistent run at No.3.