I'd hate to be the one phoning Suresh Raina to tell him the news:
"How did you get on, lads? Did you do alright without me? Did you win?"
"Erm, not exactly…"
After 143 consecutive games in the IPL, across nine years, Raina picked the perfect one to miss. Absent to be in Amsterdam for the birth of his first child, Raina would have been horrified to see the scorecard of this massacre. In fact, if cricket match highlights were certificated, this would be X-rated — only to be watched by viewers over 18. His newly-born child, therefore, would not be permitted to watch the only IPL game her Dad ever missed until 2034.
I doubt very much that Raina would name his baby "Blush", but it would be appropriate, given how many red faces there were among his teammates after Saturday's annihilation. The Lions were savagely mauled by their opponents, the Royal Challengers Bangalore, in a frenzied attack the likes of which has rarely been witnessed in a sporting arena. It was basically a bloodbath — and it was cruel to watch the Lions being so ruthlessly dismembered.
If this had been in a boxing ring, the referee would have stopped this contest about half-a-dozen overs into their reply. By that stage they had already been belted so furiously and repeatedly by AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli that it was courageous of them to re-emerge at all after the interval — lesser men would have stayed put in their corner of the dugout and thrown in the white towel. Yet they got to their feet, more than a little punch drunk, and staggered on. But the double blow inflicted upon them in the seventh over by Chris Jordan really should have seen the fight stopped.
This was as one-sided a contest as perhaps I have seen. It was a wonderful, thrilling spectacle of free, uninhibited hitting for one half of the match; and then a sloppy eyesore of poor cricket in the second.
RCB came into the game knowing that they needed to win each of their remaining games to have a chance of qualifying for the competition's latter stages — and to break into the pack of five closely bunched above them, jostling for a place in the final four. If they bat like this throughout the rest of the tournament though, they will be near unbeatable.
It was not a good toss to lose, given the huge advantage batting second has provided sides this season — and Kohli has lost eight of them in eleven attempts. No matter. The game began benignly enough, with no indication of the mayhem that would later ensue, and only three runs had been scored after two overs. In fact, Kohli, the leading run-scorer of IPL 2016, looked a little twitchy and fidgety. He cut a ball just over an outstretched hand at point, and swung and missed badly in the third over. One wondered if the poor form of Chris Gayle at the other end was actually adding pressure on his skipper. We didn't have to wait long to find out, as Gayle chopped on in the next over, his six runs taking up 13 balls, his run of low scores continuing.
At this stage, Lions' stand-in captain Brendon McCullum felt brave enough to give an early bowl to his spinners, Shivil Kaushik and Pravin Tambe, while still in the powerplay. Kaushik always begins nervously — indeed, in every match he has aborted his run-up on his first attempted delivery — a sort of nervous tic, maybe. De Villiers gave us the first indication of what would be coming: He cut for four through extra, and then launched the first of his twelve sixes over the same region off the back foot. In the next over, from Tambe, he played a glorious inside-out drive through point for four; then, next ball, feinted to leg, and the disconcerted bowler delivered a rank long hop which AB dispatched over backward square leg into the crowd.
McCullum's spin gamble had not worked, but he kept it up. Kaushik's next over was maybe the worst of the match — and yet, it went for only eight runs. In an interview earlier this week, R Ashwin talked to the marvelous "cricket couch" Subash Jayaraman and suggested that "six well-constructed bad balls could be the way forward in T20 cricket". This over was the perfect example - it contained a big full-toss; a long hop; a long-half-volley; a short ball, one wide of off stump; a long hop; and a full toss again, in that exact order.
McCullum continued rotating his bowlers — more inventively than Raina would have done — introducing Dwayne Bravo early, followed by Ravindra Jadeja, and even giving Dwayne Smith an exploratory over. The ninth over, Jadeja's first, was the key one. The left-armer almost removed the South African three times — nearly having de Villiers stumped with a beauty that beat the bat and drew him out of the crease — but just a fraction not far enough to prevent him from stretching his back leg home in time. He also had a huge shout for LBW; and almost ran him out when he personally chased down a scampered two. His first two overs only went for nine runs. After 11 overs, RCB were only 81-1. The next nine went for an unbelievable 167.
The batting of the pair erupted into an astonishing display of breathtaking strokeplay and hitting. De Villiers led the way, his 50 coming off 25 balls, including shots like an advance down the wicket to Smith, meeting the ball with a superb extra cover drive that was Trumper-esque. He pulled Dhawal Kulkarni off a short length deep into the crowd at mid-wicket; followed by a pull to the fence at wide long-on; and a brilliant square cut. He hit Jadeja over the covers, then launched him over mid-wicket for a huge six. The hundred-run stand between the two came up in the 14th over in 60 balls. The wonderful exhibition from de Villiers continued; he smashed Tambe again for six; then upper cut the leg-spinner off the back foot over backward point. He was in irresistible form. It was 136-1 from 15 overs.
In the last five overs, it was utter carnage. It was like watching the bloody finale of a Sam Peckinpah western; the gore fest of a splatter movie; or Monty Python's classic version of Salad Days. Kumar was hit for 23, featuring three sixes, one of which hit the roof, bounced out of the ground, and was lost. de Villiers completed his hundred off 43 balls — the fastest in IPL history. It was obliteration. And it was genius. Some of the greatest art is destructive. He gave a hint of tiredness in the next over, being beaten three times by Jadeja, but responded by hitting the last two balls of the over for sixes.
At the start of the 18th over, Kohli thrashed Bravo over extra for four; then repeated the shot for six. Believe it or not, up until now the Lions had not bowled that badly — it was batting approaching levels of previously unseen perfection — but they had now reached their breaking point. Bravo let go a wild, leg-side beamer which was called a no-ball and de Villiers pulled it for four; the free-hit was a slower ball, and AB sat on the back foot and waited for it, and lofted it over extra for six. He pulled the over's last ball over long on for six more. Incredibly, Bravo's over had gone for 30 runs.
The next, from Kaushik, went for the same number. This time, it was Kohli's turn. With only two overs remaining he was on 65. He hit the first ball over long-off for six; the second ball over long-off for four; the third over long-on for six; the fourth was straight for six; and the fifth high over extra into the crowd. The final ball gave him sufficient difficulty — he could only tuck it away for two.
De Villiers gave him the strike for the last five balls of the innings, but he only needed a couple to raise his hundred; which he did with a bullet straight six. It was his third century of the season — an unparalleled IPL feat. For good measure, he hit his eighth six next ball, pulling a slower-ball bouncer from Praveen Kumar over square leg and into the stand. He was out next ball, brilliantly caught by an air-born Bravo at square leg, leaving him with an average of 209 versus Gujarat Lions this year. For the last ball of the innings, Shane Watson, ever the comic fall guy, was caught behind for a golden duck.
The partnership of de Villiers and Kohli had added 229 runs in 16 overs. The pair of them, the opposition, the spectators and the TV millions were all out of breath. "Massacre, massacre," Sunil Gavaskar was barely able to mutter. It was slaughter, and yet we were all caught up in the heady thrill of the bloodlust, and reveled in every minute of it. After such heightened excitement, after such an adrenaline rush, it was natural that we'd have a big comedown.
The Lions replied with 104 all-out in 18.4 overs. Let us not pick over the carcass of this sorry corpse. It was an impossible task, and they made a miserable fist of it. The damage this emphatic defeat does to their confidence and morale — not to mention their net run-rate — may be the defining moment of their 2016 campaign. But if Suresh Raina can return and lift his battered players and bring them back from this pounding, then it may be the defining success of his captaincy career.
Published Date: May 15, 2016 09:41 am | Updated Date: May 15, 2016 09:41 am