Shell-shocked! That by and large would describe how one would have felt after last evening's Indian Premier League (IPL) match between Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) at the Eden Gardens.
KKR were skittled out for a paltry 131 on a pitch that would have been freshened up by by early rain and looked to have been looking down the barrel at the interval. There was no denying the fact that KKR's score was way under par, especially on the Eden wicket that has had runs in it after being relaid. And moreover, 131 is almost a no-score in T20 cricket and this day and age when the bats, short boundaries and adventurous batsmen have constantly pushed the limits of how much can be achieved.
It looked like Gautam Gambhir's boys would be condemned to their second defeat on the trot at home, but they clearly had different ideas, and after a bit over nine overs in the RCB innings, it was the visitors who were condemned to a massive 82-run loss and the ignominy of being shot out for the lowest ever score in the history of the IPL. The star-studded RCB batting lineup could not even manage a 50 and none of their batsmen reached double figures. Their innings was over even before they reached the halfway stage.
The Knights picked themselves up and dusted themselves off after the initial fall and dusted the RCB batters off systematically, one after another, to leave the visitors stunned and utterly aghast.
"Probably our worst batting performance, if not the worst of all time in IPL. Very hurtful for me to stand here and talk," a visibly emotional RCB captain Kohli said after the match. "I can't really say anything now, because it was that bad. As professional cricketers, we are expected to do much better. Our performance was unacceptable. Disgraceful batting, reckless from us, one of the worst collapses ever," he added.
But what led to this disaster for RCB? They had a clear edge going into the interval, but emerged as thoroughly thrashed, battered, beaten and bruised after the match. Where did they go wrong? What was special that KKR did? Let's deconstruct.
Gambhir and Co knew that the match couldn't have been won by restricting the RCB batsmen. KKR simply did not have runs on board to do that. They needed wickets. So they took a leaf out of the book of Mumbai Indians, who defended 142 against Delhi Daredevils with zest and vigour only the evening before, which showed that a low score did not mean the end of the world.
Therefore, as the high profile opening pair of Chris Gayle and Kohli walked out to the centre, Gambhir went whole hog on the offensive and from the word go, employing a forward short leg and three slips! That's something that you do not see too often in limited overs cricket, leave alone T20s.
Nathan Coulter-Nile started with a no-ball, overstepping the line by a huge margin in the zeal to bowl an effort ball first up. RCB had a free hit at the beginning of the innings itself with Gayle on strike and not a lot to chase. A gift? Not really, because the next ball from Coulter-Nile was an absolute snorter that nearly decapitated the big Jamaican. A well-directed bouncer had Gayle in all sorts of trouble, crashed on to his shoulder and lobbed up in the air, as Gambhir caught it at forward short leg.
If you believe in the adage that morning shows the day, you would have known that KKR would not be going down without a fight and RCB would have to negotiate some fiery bowling by the home team.
Soon the aggressive plan paid dividends as Kohli slashed outside off, getting an edge, and Manish Pandey held onto the catch at slip. Gayle was peppered with short-pitched stuff, offering him nothing in the slot to free his arms and go for big booming shots. One over that Umesh Yadav bowled to Gayle — the sixth of the RCB innings — stood out. Umesh has always been a yard or two faster than his Indian peers, but that used to get offset by his tendency to stray in line and length, something which he simply could not afford last evening. He was mindful of that and served up what would go down as an example of high quality, hostile fast bowling. You expect such fiery pace bowling from the Coulter-Niles of the world, but to see an Indian doing that was heartening.
AB de Villiers was also consumed by the short-pitched delivery, as he skied one from Coulter-Nile for wicketkeeper Robin Uthappa to pouch. The Australian pacer's addition to the starting XI has been a huge boost for KKR, and he showed last evening, as he had against Delhi Daredevils last Monday, that he possesses a great deal of incisiveness. He had already got Kohli and De Villiers and when he sent Kedar Jadhav back, RCB were left absolutely reeling at 24/4 in the fifth over. Chris Woakes prised out the wicket of Gayle in the next over and at that stage, one had to say, KKR had the match half won, even making room for all the glorious uncertainties that cricket is characterised by.
The procession continued, with RCB losing the remaining wickets in a hurry and their humiliation was complete. Coulter-Nile and Umesh played lead roles and were supported to the hilt by Woakes and Colin de Grandhomme, all of whom used the juice on the wicket to wreak havoc. It was a show of high quality pace bowling, and would you believe, two of KKR's biggest weapons — the wily spinners Sunil Narine and Kuldeep Yadav — were not even required to bowl.
So more than the RCB batsmen self-destructing themselves, it was an evening where the KKR bowlers made things happen and compelled the opposition to make mistakes and play false shots. RCB's spectacular collapse is being described as a 'brain fade' on the part of Kohli and Co, but really, more than that it was a case of the KKR bowlers engineering that collapse.
It was reminiscent of the way Shoaib Akhtar ripped Delhi Daredevils apart after KKR were restricted to a paltry total in the inaugural edition of the IPL in 2008. It also reminded you of how KKR captain Sourav Ganguly led with the ball to choke RCB, also in 2008, after Kolkata could manage only 129. Both those matches happened at the Eden Gardens, which is another proof of the fortress that the iconic ground has been for the Kolkata franchise.
However, the enormity of RCB's defeat, should not prevent us to acknowledge a few positives that they had in this match, the chief among them being Yuzvendra Chahal's bowling. The leg-spinner showed all his guile, ending up with 3/16. The way he out-thought Yusuf Pathan to have him stumped down the leg side was a treat to watch. Tymal Mills put up a good performance too and kept the KKR batsmen quiet with regular changes of pace.
These would be a few points which might give RCB the courage to pick themselves up after such a demoralising defeat, though that would not be easy. They are languishing at the bottom of the table with five losses from seven matches and face the defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad next and Gujarat Lions on Thursday. They are fast approaching a stage where a few more losses would jeopardise their chances of making the playoffs. The good thing for RCB, however, is that both the upcoming matches, against SRH and GL, would be at home. They had started badly last year too, if one remembers, but then Kohli started playing like a man possessed and almost single-handedly carried them to the final. One can't expect to be bailed out every time though.
KKR, on the other hand, will be happy to have got back to winning ways after a freak loss to Gujarat Lions at home. They have dates with Rising Pune Supergiant on Wednesday and Delhi Daredevils on Friday, and if they can win both of those matches, they would have taken themselves to a place from where the playoffs could be seen clearly on the horizon.