In a highly competitive T20 tournament like the Indian Premier League (IPL), it is not very often that we notice a team coming out with a complete performance. From that point of view, Monday's Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) vs Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) fixture was a rare exception. At a venue renowned as bowler's graveyard, the RCB attack (yes, finally we can term it as an 'attack', not just a 'bowling unit') completely strangled the star-studded KKR batting and architected an 82-run triumph, which in T20 standards, can be an equivalent to an innings defeat in Test cricket.
Despite the sluggish nature of the surface, at Sharjah 195 was a perfectly chaseable target. After all, this is the venue that produced seven 200-plus totals in its first eight innings of IPL 2020. So, at the halfway stage of the match when Dinesh Karthik and his boys went back to their dugout after digesting an AB De Villiers onslaught (73* off 33), they were still well and truly in the game. Add to that KKR had added an extra batsman, Englishman Tom Banton, in their line-up for this fixture. And of course their opponent, RCB, over the years had made a reputation for themselves for being the chokers, especially while defending a total.
Hence, odds were in favour of the Knight Riders.
At the start of their run-chase, one of the KKR openers - Banton and Shubman Gill - needed to go after the new ball. But there was no freebie on offer. On that slow wicket, the likes of Chris Morris and Navdeep Saini hit the back of a length with utmost accuracy. Their offer was, "If you want to hit me you need to take the risk," which the batters didn't accept in the first few overs. Though to be fair to them, the ball was also not coming onto the bat very smoothly.
Banton played five dots out of 12 balls he faced before being castled by Siani for eight in the last ball of the fourth over. KKR could only score 23 in their first four.
The fifth over produced 16 runs mostly because Mohammed Siraj tried to ball short on that slow pitch and Gill used the pace to his advantage. But at that point, if KKR thought this was a switch in momentum, they were wrong as for the next seven overs we witnessed a sheer masterclass of defensive spin-bowling from Washington Sundar and Yuzvendra Chahal.
RCB's powerplay specialist Sundar, who came into this game with an economy rate of 4.88 (second-best in the competition) in IPL 2020, was initially held back by Kohli for the left-handers in the KKR line-up. However, as soon as Nitish Rana came to the crease, the off-spinner was introduced into the attack to bowl the last over of the field restrictions.
On a deck, which was gripping a bit, Sundar was impeccable with his flatter trajectory. He was quick onto the pitch with a short-ish length, aiming for the stumps. For left-handers, there was absolutely no room to cut him through the point region. He was inviting the batters to slog-sweep and with the asking rate mounting, Rana eventually fell into the trap and got castled in Sundar's second over.
At the other end, Chahal also started with the middle and leg line to both Gill and Eoin Morgan. He, in fact, used the slowness of the surface to his advantage by giving the ball some air. At a venue where boundary dimensions are just marginal, the leggie was not afraid to flight the ball. He knew expansive shots from batsmen would bring his googly into play. The ploy almost worked for him when Gill miscued one to Aaron Finch at long-on, but the Australian failed to hold on to that catch.
For seven straight overs, the Sundar-Chahal spin-duo bossed the proceedings and stamped the authority of RCB in the fixture. The Knight Riders could only manage 30 runs during that phase losing the wickets of Rana, Gill, Morgan, and Karthik.
With 126 runs needed off the last eight overs, the only man who could have won this for KKR was Andre Russell. He was almost held out at long-off off Chris Morris in the 13th over, but young Devdutt Padikkal missed that opportunity. Next over, the West Indian hit Isuru Udana for 4, 6, 4 off the first three balls. But the bowler didn't lose his shape as two balls later the left-arm over angle eventually got the better of the big man when he tried to hit one through the off-side. As soon as Siraj grabbed that easy catch at extra cover, the dug-out knew that only formalities are left in this game before they secure two points and a huge NRR boost.
Since the arrival of Morris, this RCB bowling attack seems to be a force to reckon with. It's a versatile unit that has a lot of options for different phases of the game and following their "most comprehensive win" of the season on Monday night, skipper Kohli went on to endorse it by saying with this bowling, RCB have a decent opportunity of "going deep in the tournament."
"The bowling unit with Chris Morris coming back looks that more potent and the way Washy, Chahal, and other bowlers bowled, I think this was one of our most comprehensive wins," he said at the post-match presentation.
"That three and a half week camp really helped us, The bowling coach has worked hard with the boys. The management has been really good at setting up a great system, great culture this time around. And we have clarity of plans. We know exactly what we want to do when we step on to the field. It's not figuring out what you have to do in the middle. We at least have an idea what we want to do and plan B is ready as well.
"It all depends on the mindset I think. The body language, the intensity, the mindset this time around is very positive. People are turning the game around with the ball, with the bat as well but with the ball more so. That has been a special addition to the way we have played our cricket. If your bowling unit is strong, then you have a good chance of going deep in the tournament."
Well, it is refreshing to see that following all these years of disappointment, RCB finally have developed a bowling attack that looks ready to justify the tagline of this team – 'Play Bold'.
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