In three of their last four matches, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) have conceded 200 runs or more, and not surprisingly, on each of those occasions, the Virat Kohli-led team has ended second best. On Wednesday, after scoring an impressive 205/8 against Chennai Super Kings (CSK), and with the Chinnaswamy pitch offering turn and bounce, they appeared favourites to register their third win of the season, more so when they got rid of Shane Watson, Suresh Raina and Sam Billings within seven overs of their chase. But once again, they were done in by their death-bowling woes.
CSK scored 55/2 in Powerplay and 80/1 in last six. And powered by a combination of RCB’s questionable bowling moves and a stunning six-hitting assault by Ambati Rayudu and MS Dhoni, pulled off their highest successful chase in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
For the first half of the chase, Kohli appeared to have a plan. Leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal was introduced after Powerplay and given an unbroken run, left-arm spinner Pawan Negi was given a second spell as soon as Dhoni walked in, and Umesh Yadav, a habitual offender at end overs, was asked to go full steam at the start of the innings in an unchanged run. Chahal and Yadav’s eight overs yielded 49 runs and three wickets – Raina, Billings and Ravindra Jadeja – and RCB looked on course.
However, as Dhoni later said, he and Rayudu picked their targets and went after them with remorseless resolve. Negi, called in to prey on Dhoni’s well-documented travails against left-arm spin, was deposited over long-on on the second ball he faced, forcing Kohli to take him off. Their third spinner, Washington Sundar, had bowled the third over of the chase and was taken for 14 runs. He didn’t bowl another over in the chase. So on a pitch that had decent bite for spinners, RCB’s second and third spinners had the combined figures of 4-0-50-1.
Unlike in previous matches, Kohli was not short of bowling resources against CSK. He had at least seven genuine bowling options, out of which he used six. Colin de Grandhomme, the Kiwi all-rounder who got his first game for RCB on Wednesday, was not given an over, and that is sure to raise questions. Also, the decision to drop Chris Woakes and retain Corey Anderson looked as debatable as saving the latter for death overs. Before Wednesday, Anderson had two bad games against Mumbai Indians and Delhi Daredevils, failing with both bat and ball. Against CSK, he relied on his stock delivery – the cross-seam across the line slider to right-handers – and Rayudu and Dhoni utilised the angle to free their powerful arms. Only two bowlers, Anderson and Mohammed Siraj delivered last six overs for RCB – a strategy rarely seen in Twenty20 cricket – and both finished with an economy of over 12 runs per over.
Siraj, in particular, seemed spooked with Dhoni’s famed abilities to clear the long-on-deep-midwicket area, and the 19th over brought his fears out in the open. He started neatly, conceding only four runs off his first four balls. But once his wide yorker was carved for a six over third man by Dhoni, he looked too concerned to get close to Dhoni’s hitting zone. Next three balls landed on the other side of the tramline and were called wide, and the last legitimate ball of the over yielded a brace; effectively five runs came off a single ball.
Earlier, in the 16th over of the chase, Rayudu was dropped by Yadav, and the right-hander added insult to the injury by hitting last two balls of that over – bowled by Anderson – for sixes. The Kiwi medium-pacer was recalled for another over, the 18th of the innings, and went for 14. By then, it was quite clear that the CSK batsmen have got the left-arm pacer in their radar, so when Kohli again summoned Anderson, this time to ball the last over, it appeared more a move borne out of hope than anything else. At that stage, his match figures read 3-0-41-0 with two dot balls. Asked to defend 16 runs, he ended up conceding 17 off his first four balls and left his place in the side open to serious scrutiny.
Questions abound for Kohli too: Why wasn’t Colin de Grandhomme given an over, why did Washington Sundar bowl just one over, is Negi the right choice, why is Anderson being asked to bowl late when he is clearly struggling and so forth. To be fair to him, Kohli used his best bowlers to kill the chase early, but when four of the six bowlers implode, there’s precious little a captain can do. RCB have the worse death-bowling economy in this year’s IPL, and that explains their third-from-bottom place on the points table. They next play Kolkata Knight Riders at home on Sunday, and one must expect either Tim Southee or Navdeep Saini to get a game.