“What a superstar he is! I definitely had the best seat in the house,” gushed Marcus Stoinis of his partner Abraham Benjamin de Villiers’ spectacular batsmanship that stole the thunder from opponents Kings XI Punjab at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Wednesday night.
ABD batted as only he can. He hung in there, gauged the pitch and bowling before sensationally ambushing Punjab in the death overs. The last three overs were a veritable massacre as first he, and then Stoinis, made mincemeat of the opposition and took Royal Challengers Bangalore to a total that was not even in the realm of possibility as late as in the 15th over.
“We know ABD is special and if he takes his innings deep he could cause serious damage. But it was one of those days when our end overs execution was terrible,” pointed out KXIP skipper Ravichandran Ashwin.
The ABD-Stoinis unbroken fifth-wicket stand that yielded a match-winning 121 runs in 66 deliveries really came into its elements only in the last three overs. The duo launched an unbelievable all-out attack in those 18 deliveries to carve out 64 runs. The redoubtable finishing kick took the total to a very impressive 202.
“A total of 200 did not look even remotely possible just a few overs earlier. We thought we’d just about get to 170,” said RCB skipper Virat Kohli after the match.
Indeed when the team seemed to have lost its way and crawled from a superb Powerplay total of 70 for 1 to 109 for 4 in the14th over and 138 for 4 at the end of the 17th over, it looked like RCB had actually lost their way. But, as the dramatic events of the last three overs proved, it was merely the lull before the storm.
ABD himself said that he did not target any bowler or work towards a target. “I try to keep my mind clear and stay still during the death overs. I find it helps me.” And how magnificently this strategy worked for him!
The South African had made a valiant unbeaten 70 against Mumbai Indians when RCB were just one stroke away from a thrilling win. But it was after his innings of 63 against KKR, his fifth match in this year’s IPL, that he said that he needed to bat deep and would henceforth score big.
He might have made a mere 17 in the very next game but the string of scores after that –59 not out, 75, 25 and last night’s 82 not out (44b, 3x4, 7x6) – revealed that Mr 360 degrees would walk the talk.
Stoinis who joined ABD in the middle at the start of the 10th over said that the pair decided that they’d just hang in there till the last 24 balls and then go big.
More than this strategy it was the actual execution that was truly breath-taking as the capacity house was sent into paroxysms of joy in those final overs. ABD and Stoinis had seen off the spin threat from the two Ashwins, Ravi and Murugan and simultaneously gauged the pace and bounce of the pitch. This kept them primed for the counter-attack that knocked the stuffing out of KXIP.
Paceman Hardus Viljoen a South African international who hopes to qualify for England in the near future, had little inkling of the depths he was to plummet when he gave away 16 runs in the 8-ball (two wides) 18th over. His countryman ABD had hit him only for a four and a six.
It was the next over bowled by Mohammed Shami which encouraged RCB to dream big. The highly experienced paceman panicked when ABD went after him and send down a sequence of length, back of length and full tosses to be slammed for three consecutive sixes that broke KXIP’s spirit.
De Villiers creamed the third delivery over long off. But it was the six he smoked off the next that was pure genius. Expecting a short-pitched ball or a slower one, The South African had made room to free his hands. Shami thought he had foxed him when he bowled slightly short of length. However, ABD seized on that with a bat more horizontal than straight, judged the pace and bounce to a nicety and middled the ball spectacularly to deposit it into the stands beyond long-off.
Shami followed this up with a beamer, probably bowled inadvertently. ABD had lost sight of the ball and fended it off his face even as he ducked for cover. But he was in such terrific form that he once again middled the ball which went sailing out of the stadium.
By now the deafening cheers at RCB’s home base, where all that was visible was a sea of red and black flags, would have unnerved any opponent unused to such raw passion and humongous noise. So it proved with Viljoen.
De Villiers pulverised him for a massive six over long on before handing over the strike to Stoinis. The Aussie all-rounder showed what a powerful striker of the ball he was as he clobbered the last four balls in a 4,6,4,6 sequence that took RCB beyond the 200 mark to set up the win.
KXIP were restricted to 185 for 7 as RCB won by 17 runs. But the night was all about the genius of ABD. His three brilliant catches supplemented his magnificent batting to ensure that RCB’s cup of joy overflowed long into the night.