Both Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) came into this game having won only one match from the four they played. Also, both teams had struggled to win at home. If there is such a thing as momentum in T20 cricket, both teams needed to arrest theirs and find a new direction.
Then there was the added spark of it being a clash between Steve Smith and Virat Kohli, the two captains. The pair had shadow-boxed each other off the field during the Border-Gavaskar trophy, adding to the tension in the air.
Eventually, RPS pulled off what looked like an unlikely win after they mustered a below-par score. Here are the biggest talking points from the game:
Manoj Tiwary’s crucial blitz
When Tiwary walked in, RPS seemed to have used the energy of a good start to dig themselves a hole. They went from 127 for two to 129 for five when he came to the crease. That soon became 130 for seven.
Tiwary had no business batting so low in the first place. In his last two innings, he had scored 31 (27 balls) and 40 (23 balls), and has not yet failed for his franchise. On those occasions, he batted at five and six. On Sunday he was shunted down to seven to make way for MS Dhoni and the internationals.
Yet the Bengal skipper did what needed to be done, and struck three fours and two sixes on a wicket where the batsmen were struggling to time the ball. Eventually, his 27 runs proved to be the exact margin by which RPS won the game. In the context of the match, where batting was not easy, it should have won him the Man Of The Match award.
Dhoni and Smith innings’ prove appropriate
When Dhoni and Smith were batting, it seemed that they would undo the fine start that the openers had given the team. Dhoni was promoted to number four in a bid to give him time to get himself back into some kind of form. But despite the monster six he hit, he looked scratchy and played too many dot balls. His IPL 2017 strike rate is now 87.14, and he seemed unable to time the ball. He and Smith did put on a partnership of 58, but faced 22 dot balls while doing so.
It seemed that their knocks were far too slow for the game. The Chinnaswamy, after all, is known as a high-scoring ground. Both captains said at the toss that they expected a lot of runs. AB de Villiers, mic'd up in the field, was talking about 200 being the par score. So it was inexplicably frustrating to see Dhoni and Smith plod along as they did.
It only became apparent later in the evening that the pitch was not as easy to bat on as it looked. Players and pundits alike had misread it. To the new ball with the fast bowlers in operation, runs came easily. But against the spin and cutters, scoring was difficult. Dhoni and Smith discovered this reality, and had to play accordingly. “We thought 160 was about par on that wicket,” Smith said after the game.
While the stats will look ugly, Dhoni’s innings was invaluable in hindsight. More credit to him considering it came when he was under intense pressure over his form, and on a wicket that was, for once, giving the bowlers something.
Good length=bad length=good length
The good length ball is anathema for most bowlers and captains in the second half of a T20 game. In good batting conditions, it sits up for the cross-batted baseball swings all batsmen are proficient at nowadays. It allows batsmen to get elevation. But on a good wicket (and my definition of a good wicket is one that has something for bowlers as well as batsmen), it can be a weapon, not a weakness.
After Imran Tahir had done his magical bit, Pune's fast bowlers turned things around, emphasis on the turned. They ran their fingers over the ball, dug it into the pitch, and let the surface do the rest. Shardul Thakur and Jaydev Unadkat, both first-class pros on the Ranji circuit, bowled more slower balls in their eight overs than they probably bowl in a four-day Ranji game. By the 15th over, almost 40 percent of all the balls bowled by RPS seamers had been slower balls. The knuckle ball is back in fashion this season, and Thakur used it to good effect. Between the fourth and the 15th over, they RPS bowlers conceded just one six and no boundaries, despite de Villiers and Kedar Jadhav being at the crease.
“We assessed how the wicket was while batting towards the end, and executed really well," said Ben Stokes. “We stayed away from too many full deliverers, took the pace off the ball, and hit good lengths.”
Wickets fell to the bouncer, away-swinger and yorker, but five of the eight dismissals to the fast bowlers were good-length balls that broke the stumps. Stokes claimed three, including Kohli off a bouncer, and pocketed the Man of the Match award. The fact that there was no dew helped their case, and they made 161 the lowest total ever defended at the Chinnaswamy venue in IPL history.
Snehal Pradhan is a former India cricketer, freelance journalist, and YouTuber. She tweets @SnehalPradhan