You can’t fault Royal Challengers Bangalore’s fans if they have made an old favourite ‘Staying Alive’ their signature song. Nor can you stop them from singing it a bit louder after their team just about emerged with their head above water during a thoroughly entertaining five- wicket win over Delhi Daredevils at the Feroze Shah Kotla.
It was that ‘Saturday Night Fever’ sort of evening with the irrepressible AB de Villiers moving about the batting crease with the grace and rhythm of an accomplished dancer. Mr. 360 degrees was in his elements and his magnificent partnership with skipper Virat Kohli only underscored what the season might have been for RCB if there had been better support from teammates.
Early in the evening, it was evident that it was not just a win which was of utmost importance for RCB, they also needed to win with plenty of balls to spare in order to boost their Net Run Rate. These factors brought out the best in ABD and Kohli and they batted with a fluency that was simply awesome.
The 118-run third wicket partnership off a mere 64 deliveries was a veritable run feast for RCB fans. The duo’s footwork, running between the wickets, amazing repertoire of strokes and power hitting were so mesmerising that even Delhi’s supporters switched sides and cheered Kohli and ABD all the way.
Kohli who usually likes to play himself in with sharp singles and twos threw that template away. He remarked after the match that the intention was to win with 3 to 4 overs to spare. RCB would probably have done that, but for his unfortunate dismissal at a very inopportune time.
South African pacer Junor Dala, who has a peculiar skip just before the delivery stride, was given a gruesome welcome on his IPL debut. Kohli carted him into the stands with such ridiculous ease and unbelievable power that Dala would have been relieved to be taken off the firing line.
At the other end ABD was just as punishing. He slammed four sixes into the straight field. In keeping with his reputation of innovative strokeplay he also glided far across to the off side and plonked the ball into the stands at square leg not once, but twice.
One particular stroke off Trent Boult had the unmistakable stamp of a rampaging ABD all over it. His quicksilver movement took him deep and far across to the off side even as Boult, bowling left arm over the wicket, tried to angle the ball across his body into the wide-ball guideline marking. But ABD was all silken grace. He picked the line and pace of the ball and slog-swept the ball for a sensational six over square leg. Even his skipper, who had returned to the dugout by then, looked gobsmacked by the audacity of that magnificent stroke.
Unfortunately for RCB Mandeep Singh, who replaced Kohli at the crease, gobbled up far too many deliveries. His inability to instantly return the strike to ABD also told on the run-rate. A mere 13 runs off 14 deliveries (6 dot balls) was far too slow on a day when ABD made 72 in 37 balls (strike rate 195) and Kohli 70 off 40 deliveries (SR of 175).
RCB were also guilty of gifting away 15 to 20 extra runs through indifferent fielding and loose death overs bowling. Of course DD’s young teenage debutant Abhishek Sharma (46 n.o. from 19 balls) played impressively and with his wide range of strokes showed why Harbhajan Singh speaks so highly of him.
He was lucky to be dropped by Mohammed Siraj in the deep. But barring that blemish he did not put a foot wrong. The left hander virtually pulverised RCB’s death bowlers. His exquisite timing and power were reminiscent of Yuvaraj Singh at his peak.
Earlier, Rishab Pant had clobbered a 61 off 34 deliveries but his partner and skipper Shreyas Iyer was pedestrian in comparison. The inability of the pair as a whole to really step up the scoring rate told on DD.
The Delhi team thus became the first franchise to fall off from the race for play-off qualification. They still have two matches, against Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians at home. MI would do well to be very wary of them.
RCB, on the other hand, need to win their remaining three matches to have a chance of advancing. The onus would be on their fielding and death overs bowling to get the act right. Else it would once again be a case of ‘so near, yet so far’ for RCB.