Dhawal Kulkarni’s sensational opening burst of fast bowling rocked Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) to their very core but somebody had obviously forgotten to inform AB de Villiers that Gujarat Lions (GL) were in control of the game.
RCB had lost five wickets in five overs (5.3 overs to be precise) and had literally gone belly-up, but the unflappable ABD soaked up the pressure, carved up the attack and turned the tables magnificently to power his team into the final of the IPL with a four-wicket win.
Earlier, the light drizzle at the innings change-over had sent RCB into a tizzy as they chased of a modest target of 159. “The skipper Virat Kohli was a bundle of energy at the break telling us how to overcome that and plan the chase. I told him ‘look Virat, you’re the thinker. Me, I’d just play it as it comes,” revealed ABD at the media briefing after the match.
And how marvellously it came to him on a night when RCB had been literally brought to their knees. The home team were reeling at 29 for 5 and later 68 for 6 but, as GL’s Dwayne Smith summed up after the match, the visitors being in control was an illusion and “not while De Villiers was still at the wicket.”
In a team flush with match-winners, what made ABD special, particularly in a match like this, was the ability to suss the situation and, more importantly, to be able to play accordingly.
“I felt when we were bowling that 160 would be a difficult score to chase on this pitch. It was a peculiar one with the ball not really coming on to the bat,” he said.
One such delivery accounted for the wicket of RCB’s prolific run-machine Kohli. The batsman, conscious of impending rains which had already hit a few parts of the city and hence wary of the Duckworth- Lewis Rain rule which would kick in after the completion of five overs, did not attempt to play himself in as he customarily does. He went after a widish delivery but succeeded in only dragging the ball onto his stumps. GL were ecstatic with the dismissal while the capacity crowd was stunned into silence. RCB’s hero who had amassed a mind-boggling 913 runs this season had been dismissed for a second-ball duck. They simply could not comprehend that.
In Kulkarni’s next over Gayle was similarly dismissed, this time while playing a wild heave off the front foot. The consistent KL Rahul was prised out first ball by a peach of a delivery and with Shane Watson (1) and Sachin Baby (0) too sent packing, the wheels had literally come off RCB’s run chase.
Or so we thought. All the while, and even when Stuart Binny (21, 15b, 2x4, 1x6) took the lead in a crucial 39-run sixth wicket partnership, ABD was biding his time and sizing up the pitch and bowlers.
“As soon as Iqbal Abdullah came into bat and played out an over I realised that he was up to the task. Sometimes you get that feeling. The way his eyes lit up and the manner in which he shaped up, I knew I did not have to tell him anything. In fact he was counselling me. It was obvious that he had been in such tough situations before,” said ABD singing praises of RCB’s unexpected man of the hour who had shared that match-winning unbroken seventh-wicket stand of 91 runs in 8.4 overs.
The South African master batsmen had kept RCB in the fight with the odd boundary even as he ran his singles and twos with gusto. The tiny left-handed Abdullah too had wasted no time in squeezing the ball into the gaps and giving the strike back to ABD.
At the end of the 14th over with RCB at 96 for six and requiring to score at 11 runs per over, ABD said Kohli had sent word not to leave it to the end and that he feared it could rain any moment. This was just the trigger for the master blaster. The crowd simply went berserk and the bowlers withered as he went hammer and tongs at the attack as only he can. Lofted drives, pull shots off the front and back foot, reverse sweeps -- this was vintage ABD stamping his authority on the opposition in no uncertain terms. Abdullah too chipped in with a flurry of boundaries as RCB raced home in style.
ABD’s priceless unbeaten 79 (47b, 5x4, 5x6) and Abdullah’s convincing 33 not out (25b, 3x4, 1x6) was a triumph of their never-say-die spirit but the sight of the evening was outside the playing arena - that of a belligerent Kohli.
Right through the seventh-wicket partnership he egged the pair on and was not averse to exhibiting his emotions. The crowd too got into the spirit of things and literally brought the roof down with their roars of approval and encouragement. Rhythmic chants of A-B-D were so deafening and unnerving that umpire Anil Chaudhry had trouble staying focused on the game.
The skipper was restless and pumped up as he constantly ranted and raved while pacing up and down in the space between the sightscreen and the RCB dug out. It made for a rare sight and many in the media box, which was right above the sight screen and to the left of the dug-out had an eye on him almost right through the fightback.
Earlier, left-arm spinner Abdullah’s double strike in the second over of the match had severely damaged GL’s chances of posting a huge total. Shane Watson (4 for 29) took over and but for Smith’s combative 73 (41b, 5x4, 6x6) the visitors would have been dismissed for far less than the 158 they finally mounted on the scoreboard.
The Lions now travel to Delhi to get another shot at making the final while RCB stay put in their den for a final showdown on Sunday.
Updated Date: May 25, 2016 10:02 AM