AB de Villiers sounded ominous after Royal Challengers Bangalore’s (RCB) pulsating win over Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) when he said that his unbeaten knock had rejuvenated him and put him back in the confidence zone. He added that he would hopefully maintain this kind of form throughout the tournament.
To grasp what ABD meant by being in the zone would necessitate going back to the last ball of the penultimate over when 12 runs were still needed. If RCB’s batsmen were left with too much to do in the final over — as it happened in the match against Mumbai Indians — there was no telling the outcome. The pressure of a last over chase has its own dynamics on batsmen and bowlers alike. Sometimes batsmen do silly things to throw it away while at other times bowlers overstep or bowl wide or bowl a high full toss to make a mess of it. Why, even umpires goof up under pressure!
Thus it was important for RCB’s chances that the last-over target be kept as minuscule as possible to minimise pressure. ABD, aka Mr 360 degrees, was taking on the highly-experienced international paceman Mohammed Shami who was capable of bowling at speeds in excess of 140 kmph. To score boundaries off him at the death was always going to be a challenge.
Now, with 12 runs needed in seven balls, Shami did what was logically perfect — attempt a fast yorker targeted at the middle and leg stump. But this delivery was to ABD, the man in the zone; a master batsman who had chipped away at the target with a determined 53 runs off 37 balls. He had brought RCB within three strokes of victory.
Facing that particular Shami delivery, had ABD moved early he would have given the game away. The wily Shami could have countered that move. Instead, he stood still until the very last second and then in a twinkle of the eye stepped out and away from the stumps onto the off side, got underneath the intended yorker and scoop-swept the resultant full toss brilliantly over the fine-leg fence for a six. This was vintage ABD making a statement — a statement he emphasised post-match: ‘I’m back!’
It was not just ABD, even the old partnership firm of Virat Kohli and ABD signalled that it was back in business as the duo pieced together a match-winning 85-run partnership in 70 balls. By T20 batting standards that partnership could be reckoned too slow. But Kings XI Punjab skipper Ravichandran Ashwin hit the nail on the head when he said that the two batsmen had played it smart: “They didn’t take risks. They just knocked the ball into gaps and accumulated runs.”
Batting was always going to be RCB’s forte; particularly after they had broken the bank at the auction to shore up the team with a number of international heavyweights. But after being ambushed on an ultra-slow pitch by CSK, their batting just lost its nerve. This was reflected during the course of the six straight losses when it was not the highly-claimed batting stars but a lightweight, Parthiv Patel, who was RCB’s leading scorer.
It was not that Parthiv was setting the stands on fire. Rather, it was the collective failure of the main batsmen that had let things come to such a sorry pass. The turnaround — if indeed this win is seen as one — was made possible only because RCB’s prized duo, Kohli and ABD decided that it was time to come to the party and thereby set the record straight. In fact, the joyous scenes seen in the dugout after the match was as though they had won the Cup!
There is no denying that the eight-wicket win with four balls to spare has come as a relief to RCB. Everyone knew that the team had a brilliant batting line-up. But they were just not firing. Their failure cost the team at least three wins. Another loss chasing KXIP’s173 for 4 on a good batting pitch would have shattered faith in the team. It is in this context that Kohli and ABD’s slow but solid partnership should be viewed. They were not just putting the team on the road to victory, they were conveying a message that they were in for the fight.
The partnership might not have looked as spectacular as some of their magnificent essays in the past. But in terms of value, it helped them claw back their confidence, form, and intensity. Pointedly, Kohli’s 67 (8x4) had come off 53 balls while ABD (59 n.o, 38b, 5x4, 2x6) slammed the first of his two sixes only in the 18th over.
Kohli, who concentrated on playing shots along the ground was livid with himself when he pulled a rank short ball uppishly to be caught at deep mid-wicket. By then, ABD and he had already done the groundwork for the win. Yet Kohli was furious that he could not continue to keep his instinctive strokeplay in check. His joy and fist-pump on the win seized the mood in the RCB dressing room. The win would have substantially pepped up the team. Their challenge would be to make it count for something. Watch this space.