RCB's bowling group add clarity and adaptability to their game

Molineux: In T20s, you need to be clear about your strengths (2:02)

The RCB spinner breaks down how to excel in the shortest format following her 3 for 25 (2:02)

"Clarity plays a major role, knowing what is happening and just backing your strengths."

Royal Challengers Bangalore allrounder Shreyanka Patil - who is with the team for the second season now - uttered these words ahead of their second game against Gujarat Giants at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.

Unlike the last WPL season when RCB got off to a shaky start, losing five in a row before finally getting off the mark, Smriti Mandhana's side have started 2024 on a high, with two convincing wins. Their eight-wicket victory on Tuesday was their latest.

Two matches are a small sample size to point out the reasons behind their success, but in both matches, their bowling stepped up. And it somehow seems like this clarity has stopped them from devolving into bits-and-pieces performances like last year.

Finishing fourth in the five-team competition, RCB had a glaring weakness in bowling in 2023. They were the second most expensive team, going for 9.07 an over and picking up only 44 wickets in eight matches - also the joint-lowest wickets among teams. Contrastingly this year, they have conceded 6.50 runs an over so far, scalping 13 wickets.

Bursting with renewed energy this time, their bowlers' body language and performances look to suggest they know what they are doing. To RCB's advantage, all the group-stage matches are played in front of their loud home crowd in Bengaluru.

"Lots of work has been done in the last year to get the right combination," Mandhana said after moving to the top of the table with the win.

This behind-the-scene work started six months ago when RCB replaced Ben Sawyers with Luke Williams as their head coach. Williams came into the set-up with a lot of reputation. He had coached Adelaide Strikers to their maiden title in the WBBL after two runners-up finishes. He was also Southern Brave's assistant coach when they clinched their first trophy in the Women's Hundred last year.

With him at the helm, RCB made key moves on the auction table ahead of the second season. They added two spinners Georgia Wareham and Sophie Molineux to the squad - both of them known for their control and ability to be aggressive with bat and ball. With Shreyanka and Sobhana Asha, they formed a formidable spin quartet.

In the pace department, RCB let go of Australian quick Megan Schutt ahead of the auction. They bought Kate Cross and named seam allrounder Nadine de Klerk as Heather Knight's replacement. But with both of them waiting on the bench, Renuka Singh - who had a forgettable last season where she took one wicket at an economy of 9.54 in six games - has stepped up to grab the role of a pace mainstay.

However, RCB weren't over-reliant on one or two bowlers. Legspinner Asha's five-wicket haul handed them a thrilling two-run win against UP Warriorz in the opening game but Molineux was equally important in defending 10 off the final over. After the victory, she said she had a sneaky feeling about bowling the last over and for that, she "started thinking about it eight overs earlier."

On Tuesday, it was Renuka and Molineux who put the team ahead and thrashed the Giants. Renuka's excellent opening spell of 2 for 14 in four overs set the tone after Mandhana opted to bowl. She troubled Giants with her swing and seam, persisting with good-length deliveries. With an inswinger, she dismissed the Giants captain Beth Mooney for 8 and then dragged Phoebe Litchfield (5 off 12) out of the crease with one that moved away from the fifth-stump line and the keeper effecting a stumping.

What has also stood out is RCB's flexibility and preparedness. Unlike the first game, where the left-arm spinner Molineux shared the new ball with Renuka, Mandhana went to seamers Sophie Devine and Ellyse Perry early to keep the Giants' two left-handers - Litchfield and Mooney - quiet. And it worked as they huffed and puffed to score in the powerplay.

Molineux's introduction as the fifth bowler only added more misery as she struck immediately to remove Veda Krishnamurthy for nine in 15 balls. Harleen Deol, who opened in place of Krishnamurthy, also found it tough. In a terrible mix-up with Ash Gardner, Deol threw her wicket away for 22 off 31.

From 45 for 2, Giants slipped to 73 for 5, with Wareham removing Gardner before she could change the momentum and Molineux dismissing Kathyrn Bryce. In the 19th over, Molineux added one more to her tally by darting a back-of-a-length delivery on leg stump to beat Sneh Rana for pace on the inside edge and earned another stumping scalp.

Giants, who had 67 dot balls in their innings - the most in a WPL innings - could only muster 107 for 7, which was chased down comfortably by Mandhana (43) and S Meghana (36 not out) in 12.3 overs.

"I feel like in T20 cricket as a bowler, you need to be really clear on what your strengths are, what you can bring to the team," Molineux said after the game.

"Luke and all the staff have been very clear with each bowler and what their roles are gonna be and also at the same time, be willing to adapt like we did today. We had a completely different look to our powerplay where we were pace-heavy. So, that's all about T20 cricket especially, just be clear on your own individual plans where they fit with the team and be able to change on the fly."

But as Mandhana mentioned after the game, this is just the start. RCB "need to keep doing things right" as they look to rediscover glory and stand up to expectations this time around.