Royal Challengers Bangalore’s (RCB) run at the 2018 edition of Indian Premier League (IPL) ended on Saturday with a 30-run loss to Rajasthan Royals (RR) in Jaipur, and once again, two men stood out in their misbegotten campaign.
Those who have followed RCB over the years would not need much hints to tell that once again, the old firm of Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers stood out in the batting-heavy team and lent a semblance to respectability to their campaign.
Statistics tell the tale. With 530 runs from 14 matches, Kohli was the top-scorer for his team, a late slump in form notwithstanding. De Villiers, meanwhile, endured a mini slump of his own following his illness, only to return to his superhuman self in the last few matches. A tally of 480 runs from 11 innings makes his RCB’s second highest scorer of the season.
What the numbers do not reveal, however, is the fact that down to the last match of their campaign, one — if not both — of these two batsmen sought to shore up their team. But then, Kohli and de Villiers did in 2018 what they have been doing all along for RCB.
There was mania, and there was hysteria. That evening at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in a must-win encounter, a bundle of emotions was floating by. Emotions of fear, nerves and of veneration. RCB had convincingly lost six out of their first 10 matches in the 2016 edition of IPL, and the qualification scenario remained quite simple — win the remaining four matches or perish.
While a general do-or-die situation smothers an individual till he/she can bear it no more, genius come to the fore when the path appears gloomy and bleak. Though their names were often taken in tandem when describing best cricketers of this era, against a hapless Gujarat Lions squad, on 14 May, 2016, de Villiers and Kohli ensured that cricket world would refuse to see them as single entities post the carnage they unfurled against the Brendon McCullum-led side.
Kohli set the tone with a boundary off Shivil Kaushik but it was an ABD show henceforth. In 4.4 overs, de Villiers had smacked two sixes and three fours as Kohli held up the other end. He rotated the strike and gave as many balls as possible to de Villiers to face, crawling to a 31-ball 36 himself. De Villiers soon galloped to 37 from 22 balls.
Not one to get caught up in one-upmanship, the skipper restrained himself, admiring the heroics of his superhuman partner and rushing to congratulate him as he raced to a hundred off just 43 balls. It was only after Kohli was assured of RCB’s position in the game that he unleashed his fury. In the next 10 deliveries, he swiftly moved from 52 to 95 with the help of six sixes and one four. This time, as Kohli was bludgeoning the attack, ABD stood firm at the other end, facing just one delivery in two overs — thus scripting not only one of the most successful partnerships in the IPL but also paving the way with an innate understanding of the other’s style of play.
The partnership of 229 runs of just 98 deliveries showcased the immense maturity and the deep understanding between the two. While de Villiers was given the freedom to play his natural game, Kohli held the reins and flourished in the end to take his team to a position of strength. By moulding their cricket according to the situation, the duo scripted a tale that would be penned down in IPL’s folklore.
Mumbai Indians met a similar fate in 2015, when Kohli and de Villiers scored an unbeaten 215 together, but the partnership against Gujarat Lions truly stamped their authority. They would share four more century-plus stands that year, forcing the world to stand up and take note.
So what is it that has pushed the fans and experts alike to not only revere the two players individually but also as a pair? It is no secret that year after year, RCB go into the IPL as one of the strongest units on paper, only to be undone by a bunch of inexperienced youngsters and a bowling attack that leaves much to be desired. Year after year, the franchise push themselves to the point of no return, and year after year, it has been the efforts of the South African and the Indian that helps them stay afloat.
Since 2016, the dynamic pair has redefined consistency. However, a fine line exists between consistency and reliability and while some cricketers have been applauded for the former, they are often known to slip-up when their team actually needs them the most.
This is where the aura of the two intensifies. Be it together or be it taking responsibility when the other has failed, more often than not, either de Villiers or Kohli is found excavating his team from the depths, so much so that the side has often been termed as a “two-men army”.
While de Villiers is generally the aggressor in their alliance, the roles were reversed against Delhi Daredevils at the Ferozshah Kotla earlier this IPL. In the first major partnership between the two this season, it was Kohli who started with a bang, rushing away to 42 in just 21 balls even as de Villiers at the other end stood at 12 from 10. It was only when Sandeep Lamichhane and Amit Mishra threatened to put the brakes on Kohli that the South African began his show.
Though the cricketing world has seen many successful partnerships, what stands out here is how, despite their own individual genius, they complement and adjust to each other’s form with ease, sans any selfishness or personal motifs. In this, they prove to be the ideal team players.
Against Sunrisers Hyderabad on 17 May, RCB lost Kohli early. However, AB de Villiers stood up once again, maturely guiding Moeen Ali to his highest IPL score of 65 from just 34 deliveries. He himself scored a 39-ball 69, and his stupendous catch to dismiss Alex Hales will go down in his ever-growing legacy. Not surprisingly, Kohli compared his South African teammate to Spiderman.
De Villiers too has often showered his contemporary with lavish praises, none more profuse than when he termed him as a “consummate surgeon at the crease” who knows when to up the ante. They keep addressing each other as the best batsman in world, which speaks of their mutual respect and admiration. Kohli and de Villiers, despite the fumbling fortunes of their team, continue to be templates of a perfect partnership. Thanks to their craft, RCB can continue to hope and believe.