Bengaluru: Powered by an in-form Virat Kohli's inspirational leadership, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) would look to inch closer to a maiden Indian Premier League (IPL) title triumph when they take on table-toppers Gujarat Lions in the first qualifier in Bengaluru on Tuesday.
RCB were in a real spot of bother as they needed to win their last four games to make it to the play-offs. The Bangalore outfit showed great fighting spirit, with Kohli leading from the front, to record four consecutive wins to finish the league engagements at the second spot.
RCB finished the preliminary round with 16 points from 14 games, just behind leaders Gujarat Lions, who garnered 18 from 14 matches.
RCB seem to have struck form at just the right time and after a not-so-impressive start to the season, the Kohli-led side has dished out four clinical performances to beat the Lions (by 144 runs), Kolkata Knight Riders (by nine wickets), Kings XI Punjab (by 82 runs D/L method) and Delhi Daredevils (by six wickets) to seal their top-four place.
In the do-or-die battle against Daredevils last night, RCB first restricted their opponents to 138 for eight and then chased down the target with consummate ease — Kohli again hogging the limelight with an unbeaten 54.
RCB would be desperate to continue their winning momentum for two more matches and ensure that they improve on their runners-up finish from the 2009 and 2011 season.
The last time RCB squared up against Gujarat at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru, they recorded the biggest ever (144-run) victory in the history of IPL. AB de Villiers (129 not out) and Virat Kohli (109) went on a rampage in that game and scored magnificent centuries.
And come Tuesday, the Bangalore outfit will once again fancy their chances on home turf.
The biggest hero for RCB this season has been skipper Kohli, who is perhaps enjoying the best phase of his batting career.
Kohli has so far amassed a record 919 runs in the ongoing IPL with four centuries and six fifties at a staggering average of 91.90.
Kohli has also been an impressive captain and infused confidence in the team after a disappointing start. At one point of time, qualifying for the play-offs looked a distant dream, but the captain made it possible with his glorious batting and leadership qualities.
In the company of Kohli, de Villiers and Chris Gayle also dished out some sizzling batting performances. The trio has been nothing short of a nightmare for the team's opponents.
While de Villiers has 603 runs under his belt with one century and five half-centuries, Gayle indicated his return to form in the last few games.
Credit for the turnaround should also go to RCB's not-so-experienced bowling attack, which was under fire for a major part of the tournament.
RCB's turnaround in bowling was made possible by leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, who is the leading wicket-taker with 19 scalps from 11 games.
The late entry of Chris Jordon also helped RCB in containing their rivals in the death overs.
Australian Shane Watson too has served the team well with the ball, picking up 16 wickets so far in this season.
Debutantes Gujarat Lions, on the other hand, were the first team to qualify for the play-offs by destroying the hopes of title-holders Mumbai Indians.
Gujarat defeated RCB by six wickets in their opening meeting this season before suffering the 144-run loss in the next tie.
And the Suresh Raina-led side will be eyeing sweet revenge for the embarrassing defeat to head straight into the final of their maiden IPL appearance.
In contrast to RCB, Gujarat made a rampaging start to the season before facing a late slump.
In Aaron Finch (339 runs from 11 games), Brendon McCullum (321 from 14), Dwayne Smith (250 from 10), Raina (397 from 13), Dinesh Karthik (283) and Dwayne Bravo, Gujarat too have a formidable batting line-up.
In the bowling department, Gujarat have depended on the pace duo of Bravo and Dhawal Kulkarni. While Bravo has 15 wickets against his name, Kulkarni has managed 14 scalps so far.
The spin duo of Ravindra Jadeja and Pravin Tambe, who did not have the best of IPL so far, too would like to come to the party.
Even though the losing side on Tuesday will have another chance to make it to the final by locking horns against the winner of the Eliminator between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kolkata Knight Riders, both RCB and Gujarat will be hoping for a direct berth in Sunday's final.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: Virat Kohli (c), Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, Shane Watson, KL Rahul, Sachin Baby, Varun Aaron, Abu Nechim, Sreenath Aravind, Stuart Binny, Yuzvendra Chahal, Travis Head, Iqbal Abdullah, Kedar Jadhav, Chris Jordan, David Wiese, Akshay Karnewar, Sarfaraz Khan, Vikramjeet Malik, Mandeep Singh, Parveez Rasool, Harshal Patel, Kane Richardson, Tabraiz Shamshi, Vikas Tokas, Praveen Dubey.
Gujarat Lions: Suresh Raina (c), Dwayne Smith, Brendon McCullum, Aaron Finch, Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja, Dale Steyn, James Faulkner, Ishan Kishan, Praveen Kumar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Shivil Kaushik, Dwayne Bravo, Sarabjit Ladda, Amit Mishra, Akashdeep Nath, Paras Dogra, Eklavya Dwivedi, Shadab Jakati, Pradeep Sangwan, Jaydev Shah, Umang Sharma, Pravin Tambe, Andrew Tye.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: May 24, 2016 19:09:47 IST