It has become a familiar sight now: Virat Kohli walking up for the post-match chat, blaming his bowlers, ruing the lapses, bemoaning the batting, asking his men to be brave and admitting that they didn’t deserve to win. Another familiar sight of this season’s Indian Premier League (IPL) has been that of an understated and underestimated captain, riding high on his non-fussy bowlers who are fast developing a habit of bringing their side back from the dead.
Kane Williamson and Kohli go back a long way; right to their Under-19 days when they first revealed themselves to the global audience at the age-group World Cup. In years to come, they would establish themselves as the best batsmen of their teams, besides going on to lead their national sides.
Their fortunes couldn’t have been starker on Monday. Both top-scored for their teams, but while Williamson’s bowlers, once again, showed why Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) occupy the top-slot on points table, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) found fresh ways to implode.
As RCB’s long night meandered to its end, Kohli, bruising from his seventh loss in tenth game, spoke of the presence of “characters” in the opposition.
“If you have strong characters, you will always do well. SRH had a few guys who did well under pressure, that's been the story of their season,” he said. The RCB skipper couldn’t have been more accurate. His team, to use a cliché, hasn’t clicked as a unit, and the match against Sunrisers was possibly a testimony to their eroding belief.
RCB had it covered for first 30 overs of the match. Their bowlers, for a change, had a good day. From 112/4 at the end of the 16th over, they bowled out SRH for 146 on the last ball of their innings — that’s 34/6 off the last four overs. On most days, such a powerful finish hands over the momentum to chasing side, and RCB showed they mean business when Parthiv Patel eased the initial skepticism with a 13-ball 20. At the end of their powerplay, RCB were 55/1 compared to SRH’s 38/2; it became 75/3 for Kohli’s side at the end of the tenth over, and when put against SRH’s 61/3 at that stage, it appeared that the visitors would have the last laugh.
The problem is, SRH have shown an uncanny knack of mounting a comeback in last ten overs of their defence. They defended 118 against Mumbai Indians at Wankhede, 132 against Kings XI Punjab at home, and 151 against Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur. Their bowlers come into their own when the pitch begins to get slower, and armed with the guile of Rashid Khan and Shakib Al Hasan in the middle overs, SRH have found a novel way to suck the vitality out of opposition’s chase. In Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Sandeep Sharma and Siddarth Kaul, they have skillful and intelligent pacers who love to fly under the radar but get the job done. Against RCB, it was no different.
From overs 5-16, they conceded only 24 runs and prised out four wickets. This includes a 12-ball patch (overs 9.5 to RCB to 11.4 overs) where they took three wickets at the cost of 10 runs. From overs 8-12, RCB lost four wickets and scored at five runs an over. Two of those four overs were bowled by Rashid, in which he had Kohli dropped by Williamson at first slip and bowled AB de Villiers with a googly.
Introduced in the seventh over, he saw Manan Vohra dropped by Kaul off his third ball, but far from losing heart, the Afghanistan leg-spinner spun a web around the RCB batsmen. Call it his looming threat or the pressure created by the five-run over, Vohra fancied his chances against Sandeep Sharma in the next over and perished. Kohli was dropped in Rashid’s second over, and in the very next over — bowled by Shakib — the RCB skipper fell. Rashid finally had a wicket, that of De Villiers, in his third over, and that, pretty much, was the game.
RCB were done in by lack of partnerships, and barring Colin de Grandhomme and Mandeep Singh’s futile 57-run alliance that ended on the last ball of the match, they had nothing to show. None of their batsmen played more than 30 balls, and SRH defended 39 runs from last four overs.
Blaming RCB’s batting alone for the loss would be an injustice to SRH’s bowling, and due credit must be reserved for Kaul and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, both of who presented a masterclass in death bowling. They landed yorkers at will, and mixed their pace astutely to shut out RCB.
Kohli’s men now travel to New Delhi on Saturday night, where another slow, dual-paced surface awaits. They still have a mathematical chance to make it to the playoffs, but Kohli would know that they have left it for too late.