Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Maxwell in the middle. With Maxwell in the middle, RCB are a team with deeper gears that are necessary to thrive over a full IPL season
With Maxwell in the middle, RCB are a team with deeper gears that are necessary to thrive over a full IPL season
There was a moment in the 13th over of their clash against Punjab Kings when Royal Challengers Bangalore showed again that they'd made a step up from a fairly good show in the 2020 season. Glenn Maxwell hung back to another 95kph delivery delivered on a good length from left-arm spinner Harpreet Brar and pulled him deep into the stands behind mid-wicket. Two balls later, he sent the ball onto the road.
It was a seminal moment in the context of the game. In the six overs since the PowerPlay however, RCB had been nudged towards a familiar hole, losing three wickets for 18 runs, all life sucked out of their innings by fast spinners hitting the good length and medium-pacers taking the pace off. KL Rahul, the Kings skipper, even had three overs saved off Brar and Ravi Bishnoi to poke at those old RCB middle-overs insecurities. Enter Maxwell, the one-man spin crusher, who took the middle game into his own hands.
The Australian smashed 57 off 33, hitting all four of his sixes against the Brar-Bishnoi spin duo to make the difference in a game in which the two teams cancelled each other out with the bat, both in the first six overs (RCB 55/0, PBKS 49/0) as well as the last three overs (RCB 32/4, PBKS 30/1).
“The score they got was maybe 10-15 runs extra, but when Maxwell comes in and bats with freedom, the form he is in, you have got to give it to him,” Rahul summed up after the game.
RCB's progress to a second straight Playoffs appearance after three years of underperformance before that has been underpinned by a clarity of purpose. Their fourth-place finish last year was offset by a second half performance in which opposition reined in their two main batsmen rather easily. Virat Kohli faced 202 balls of spin at a strike-rate of 109 while AB de Villiers struck at a marginally better strike-rate of 114 from 141 balls of spin. Between the two, they hit only seven sixes versus spin through an entire season.
Signing Maxwell, despite his obvious talents, was a punt that was both expensive and fraught in risk. It had been seven years since he turned heads and dropped jaws in the IPL and subsequent gigs were earned on that memory as well as periodic reminders of his ability in the Australian yellow. His numbers on strike-rates were outside the normal curve. But he was not the same in this tournament. Something odd was happening. Either the numbers were misleading, or this white-ball genius had somehow been a misfit who was simply playing at the wrong level, a lacuna in the system.
But the RCB-Maxwell union brought a sense of completeness. A maverick white-ball batsman prone to receiving mixed messages joining a team having just the right opening for his skillset and willing to offer the said role clarity: crush spin in the middle. In 11 innings this season, Maxwell has hit 15 sixes and scored 53% of his runs against spin at a strike-rate of 158.
Beyond the naked numbers, there's disruption, the powerfully unnerving sight of that commanding and upright figure that can suddenly contort into a tangle and access parts of the ground that you didn't think needed protection. Other batsmen try to upset a bowler's rhythm by moving conspicuously around the crease; Maxwell does this with little feints of his hip and shoulder.
Last week against Mumbai Indians, another team that has used spin efficiently to control RCB in the past, Maxwell dusted out his reverse sweep to target the shorter boundary with devastating effect. Against Brar and Bishnoi, he shelved it long enough for them to begin anticipating it and land in trouble to the conventional slog sweep. He did play a switch swat for four after depositing four over cow corner, by when Bishnoi, the scourge of Devdutt Padikkal earlier, was already in damage limitation mode, looking to protect his final over.
A mobile countermeasure he may be, but more importantly Maxwell in this RCB team is an agent of cohesion, who has made people around him more effective. With him in the XI, Kohli can maximise his effectiveness in the PowerPlay and de Villiers is kept exclusively for the death. With Maxwell in the middle, RCB are a team with deeper gears that are necessary to thrive over a full IPL season when opposition strategies can catch up over time.
Ironically, Sunday was also a reminder of the wizardry Rahul and Punjab Kings would have dearly loved when their own middle-order faltered against Yuzvendra Chahal's mastery despite another promising start from the skipper and Mayank Agarwal.
“You don't get middle-order players scoring 500-600 runs in a season,” Rahul said at the end of the game when asked about the over-reliance on two batsmen. As it turns out, Maxwell has 407 this year with at least three innings still to come. Statistically, that may be some way off from that 552-run 2014 campaign that's often used as a yardstick to beat him with, but we might finally have the best Maxwell we've ever seen in the IPL.