The tremendous advantage of having a destructive spearhead championing the bowling attack can never be overstated, as Dale Steyn emphatically proved in Royal Challengers Bangalore’s (RCB) last two IPL games.
His infusion has served as shock therapy and made a world of difference to a bowling attack which was previously being flayed even at its home base.
“He’s made a complete difference,” said Parthiv Patel after the pulsating last gasp one-run win over Chennai Super Kings (CSK) on Sunday night.
“It is very important to get early wickets in powerplay overs in T20 cricket. It gives the bowling attack a lot of confidence and momentum. Any bowling side would look a lot healthier if it can strike those early blows. That’s what Steyn has done for us,” he added.
Steyn almost made a dramatic entry when parachuted into this season’s IPL tourney. He had KKR’s Chris Lyn edging the very first ball only for Marcus Stoinis at slip to grass it. He had just landed from South Africa following a call from RCB’s chief coach Gary Kirsten and that delivery served notice that the bowling was no longer a pushover.
Earlier, RCB were hoping that Australian fast bowler Nathan Coulter-Nile would lead their attack this year. Last year he had pulled out with an injury but the team was confident that his presence this year would boost their chances.
Unfortunately, the fast bowler could not make it this year either, owing to a variety of reasons including his wife delivering their child.
In desperation, they called on their former fast bowler Steyn who, as fellow South African AB de Villiers pointedly told the media a few days ago, “puts 200 percent effort behind every delivery.”
RCB needed that kind of commitment as their pacers were not only flagging and ineffective, but mentally disintegrating under pressure. Worse, they looked so innocuous in Powerplay that a distraught skipper Virat Kohli had to often turn to leg spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, despite field restrictions still being in force.
Even after pressing Chahal into service, RCB enjoyed little success. They bagged a miserable three wickets in the first eight matches during 48 powerplay overs i.e. a wicket every 16 overs! They were also leaking runs and hence constantly on the backfoot.
It was in the backdrop of this miserable scenario that Steyn made his entry. And how emphatic it has been. In the two matches thus far, RCB’s bowling Powerplay overs have yielded seven wickets, including the four CSK scalps on Sunday. Nothing could be a more telling commentary than this.
Steyn had played for RCB over nine years ago. At that time he was a dreaded tearaway, the fastest bowler in the game. He could beat batsmen for pace or have them ducking for cover. His 150kmph pace was way above what others were dishing out.
The Steyn of these days bowls in the 130s and occasionally cranks it up to the mid-140 kmph. But what he has lost in pace he makes up with late swing, deception, experience, and accuracy. He has also learned to get into the minds of batsmen and make it count, as he did against Suresh Raina.
It is no secret that Raina does not like the short-pitched deliveries. But for that flaw, he is a very handy batsman and probably the most impactful one in IPL cricket. Steyn had just taken a wicket, having Shane Watson caught in the slips with an away swinger in the fifth delivery of the innings when Raina walked in.
This is where the experience of Steyn and his control came brilliantly to the fore. Raina, probably expected to be greeted with a short-pitched delivery from the speedster. He hung back until it was too late. Steyn had got into his mind and then sold him the perfect yorker. Raina was in a tangle as he tried to get his feet out of the way. By then the ball had slipped under his vision, eluded his desperately descending bat and crashed into the stumps. CSK had lost two of its best batsmen in the very first over.
RCB’s total of 161 was below par at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium where two successive days of rains had ensured that the pitch was under covers.
“Initially we had wanted a total of over 200. But after batting a couple of overs Kohli and I realised that there was moisture underneath. We thought 175 would be sufficient,” said Parthiv Patel.
But 161 was way short of that. Besides, the pitch had dried out although there was a hint of dew in the way Umesh Yadav’s deliveries skidded through initially. However, Steyn’s early strikes, followed up by Yadav’s two wickets ripped open CSK’s top order. They were 32 for 4 at the end of Powerplay overs.
From then on, they were always facing defeat until Mahendra Singh Dhoni almost turned the match on its head in that final over.
“We were in control till the end of the 19th over,” said Kohli. The 20th over was all Dhoni till even he made the cardinal sin of not putting bat to ball in that final delivery which fetched RCB that skin-of-the-teeth win. But for Dhoni valiant heroics, this match was all about Steyn’s impact. In him, RCB have a real gem to rally around. Hopefully, they can make it count.