Stung to the quick by criticism over their profligate ways this season, Royal Challengers Bangalore's bowlers showcased rare discipline and consistency on Sunday night to spectacularly strangle Delhi Daredevils. The ensuing six-wicket win propelled RCB to the second spot at the conclusion of the IPL T20 league stage, whereby they earned the right to play table toppers Gujarat Lions in the Qualifier play-off at Bengaluru on Tuesday. This also means the team gets the cushion of taking two shots at making the final.
The peerless Virat Kohli's magnificent form enabled him to once again dominate the batting scene. However, it was the brilliant fielding by RCB that presented an astonishing sight. Skipper Kohli as usual set very high standards for the rest of the team with a brilliant catch in the outfield that accounted for danger man Karun Nair. As though on cue, Chris Gayle dived to his right at short point to pluck a catch to dismiss Sam Billings. It was that sort of night when RCB rarely put a foot wrong, either while bowling or fielding.
In fact, Kohli got the ball rolling much earlier, winning one of his few tosses this season. This enabled his team to play to their strength, ie chase a target. And how well his bowlers and fielders, in particular, rose to the occasion!
Left-arm medium pacer Sreenath Aravind and leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal were the toast of RCB as they picked up key wickets and disrupted DD's innings right from the start. Gayle, thrown into the mix by Kohli, also responded well to the challenge and his two wickets, of Pawan Negi and Carlos Brathwaite, crushed DD. Aravind, who had gone on a couple of tours with the Indian team and has played T20 internationals, was hardly fielded by RCB in the first half of their campaign. The team think-tank was obsessed with bowlers who could bowl at speeds in excess of 140 kmph and hence preferred the more wayward Harshal Patel or Varun Aaron in his place.
Aravind, although he fires the speed gun only to the mid to high 130s, has other skills as he demonstrated. A battle-hardened pacer who understands angles and subtle changes in length and pace better than either Patel or Aaron, Aravind has ensured that RCB have come to appreciate the value of these skills. They gave him his full quota of four overs and he did not disappoint them. He broke the opening partnership during the powerplay overs and conceded a mere 28 runs while bowling his two spells at difficult phases of the innings.
Chahal was even better. The leg-spinner has been a revelation these past two years. This year, when the RCB bowlers were being hammered in the early matches, Chahal had kept his end going. He mixes leg spin and googlies well and is also pretty good with varying his length. His crime though has been over-stepping, and on Sunday, he seemed to have got the benefit of doubt on this score during the dismissal of Quinton de Kock. His three wickets — Karun Nair, Sanju Samson and de Kock — wrecked DD's chances of posting a huge total.
But where Kohli pulled out an ace was by introducing Gayle to the bowling crease. The tall Jamaican, who bowls his off-spinners at a healthy pace, fired a few yorkers too for good effect. The icing on the cake was his two wickets. DD limped along to 138 for eight, a target that was never going to challenge RCB.
Some artificial excitement was induced into the chase when Gayle and AB de Villiers were dismissed in the first three overs. However, Kohli was around to anchor the chase. He not only kept his end going but also coaxed KL Rahul (38 off 23 balls, 4x4, 1x6) to express himself at the crease. The 66-run third wicket stand took the wind out of DD's sails.
Kohli registered his sixth 50 of the tournament. Coming on top of his four centuries, his batting this season has given him the aura of a Bradman in T20 cricket. In the 14 innings he has played thus far, he has "flopped" in only four and even those with scores of 33, 7, 20 and 14. Kohli's very presence has demoralised opposition bowlers to the extent that the only strategy they have against him is fervent prayer. It's just that the prayers don't seem to be working.
Updated Date: May 23, 2016 11:30 AM