There was a school of thought which believed that the reason behind Royal Challengers Bangalore's (RCB) meek surrender in the 214-run chase was Virat Kohli.
It may sound preposterous to some as Kohli top scored for Bangalore and ended unbeaten on 92 off 62 balls. His strike rate was 148.39 which didn't make it seem like he was the culprit. But the argument was that he slowed down in the middle overs, thereby putting the batsmen at the other end under pressure. The shots that Mandeep Singh, Corey Anderson and Sarfaraz Khan played to get out attested to that theory. Mindless slog was the term that came to the mind after watching the trio's dismissals. In hindsight, the theory makes sense but it doesn't take into consideration some of the factors which led to a change in Kohli's approach.
Rohit Sharma, who walked out to the centre with Mumbai Indians struggling on 0/2 and successfully averted the hat-trick, starred for the hosts slamming 94 off 52. Mumbai eventually scored 213 which meant the rest of the batsmen scored 119 off 68 balls. In Kohli's case, the equation of the rest of the team was 75 off 58 balls. The difference between both the teams was how their bowlers operated in the middle overs.
Mumbai were 60/2 at the sixth over mark, while Bangalore were 55/2. There was very little to separate the two teams. Like Mumbai, even Bangalore had lost two wickets in an over. If pushed, the only difference was RCB had lost two of their best batsmen in Quinton de Kock and AB de Villiers, but that didn't matter much as Kohli was still at the crease. However, the introduction of the spin duo of Krunal Pandya and Mayank Markande changed things drastically.
Before this match, Krunal was underbowled. He was touted as the lone hope for their spin department after the auction. Of course Markande's impressive start had somewhat eclipsed that issue but still, Mumbai's strategy to not use the left-arm spinner enough was becoming inexplicable. He might not be a wicket-taker like Markande but Krunal's overs are mostly frugal. But Rohit had changed his mind on Tuesday and allowed Krunal to bowl his full quota for the first time in this season.
The results were evident. Not only did Krunal complemented Markande, he also picked three crucial wickets. His eventual figures were 4-0-28-3, which are exceptional as it is when the opposition are chasing 214. But they seem more valuable if one doesn't forget that his first over went for 13 runs.
What Krunal's three overs did was it allowed Markande to bowl freely. His biggest contribution of the match was keeping Kohli quiet in the middle overs. The leg-spinner conceded only 15 runs off the 14 balls he bowled to Kohli. It wasn't as if Kohli wasn't taking risks against Markande. He also hit a six against the 20-year old, but in general, Markande's plan to bowl according to the field paid rich dividends. Kohli simply couldn't set the ball rolling.
In contrast to Krunal and Markande, who conceded 53 in their eight overs and bagged four wickets, the opposition spinners Washington Sundar and Yuzvendra Chahal leaked 64 off their five overs. There were a lot of other factors which led to Mumbai ending their losing streak but the duo's performance, on a track that didn't offer much help for the spinners and on an outfield where dew was playing a huge factor, stood out.
This was one of the major reason why Kohli approached the innings the way he did. He admitted that he had given up on the chase halfway into the chase and was concentrating on minimising the margin of the defeat so that the net run rate doesn't take too bad a hit. If Markande and Krunal can force a batsman like Kohli, who has taken his team over the line in the stiffest of chases, to give up, surely they can do so against the other teams too. Mumbai have found a blueprint in the middle overs and Rohit now has to ensure that they follow it in the rest of the season.