The journey from Bangalore to Raipur wouldn’t have felt very different for Royal Challengers Bangalore after a break of two days. Thousands of spectators thronged the Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh International Stadium, just as seen at the M Chinnaswamy, but with a slight difference. For the Raipur crowd, it wasn’t in support of their home side, Delhi Daredevils, but was for one man from the opposition – Virat Kohli.
Sequentially, the stadium, that was packed in a sea of red and black in support of the Kohli-led side, left content. With their fourth win on the trot, Royal Challengers brushed Delhi Daredevils aside with ease in a six-wicket victory and sealed a spot in the playoffs in their final league match of the ninth edition of the Indian Premier League.
Delivering in accordance to the support meted out his way, Kohli did little wrong on the night. Starting with opting to bowl at the toss, to resourceful field placings, to taking a blinder accounting for Karun Nair’s wicket, to a match-winning knock, Kohli supplied to perfection on Sunday (May 22), surpassing the 900-run mark this season.
It wasn’t a typical flurry-of-boundaries, strong start for Royal Challengers as Chris Gayle played on in the second over. With AB de Villiers departing for 6 in the third, albeit chasing a moderate score, Royal Challengers needed a steady hand. Once again, it was Kohli who rose to the occasion.
KL Rahul attacked Chris Morris from the onset with a few words being exchanged from the trio of bowler, batsman and Kohli. It wasn’t the greatest idea given the menacing form Kohli has been in. He eventually silenced the hosts, knocking them out of the tournament, with an unbeaten 54 off 45 playing a vital role in his side finishing second on the points table.
Kohli’s stand of 66 with Rahul that came in 7.3 overs tilted the game in their favour. Rahul looked in control from the start, and with guidance from his skipper, thrived in the stand, doing the bulk of the scoring. In his usual style of play, Kohli milked the cover and long on regions to chopping off the runs required with chants of “Aaaaaar Ceeeee Beeeee” being replaced with ones of “Kohli! Kohli!”. While Kohli stayed strong at one end, Shane Watson handed Pawan Negi his first wicket of the season with just 28 to get. Stuart Binny, in the shadow of his captain, finished the job as Royal Challengers scaled the target with 11 balls to spare.
The last time that these two sides met, Quinton de Kock scored a century to overhaul Royal Challengers’ mammoth target of 191. He continued from where he left off in Bangalore after being dropped by Chris Jordan at backward point on 8, to go onto score a half-century – one of Daredevils’ two substantial innings in their 138 for 8.
After de Kock’s drop, Sreenath Aravind returned the next ball to bowl the perfect length to Rishabh Pant, who found a healthy edge that flew to Rahul. Gayle then ran after a chance in the fifth over but the ball beat him to it, landing safely. But like Nair said of Carlos Brathwaite’s spectacular run-out against Sunrisers Hyderabad, a piece of brilliance on the field can lift a side. And it did; only, this time it was Kohli – not the batting savant, but the fielding one.
Evoking memories of a Kapil Dev catch from the final of the 1983 World Cup, he sprinted about 40 metres from mid off towards the sightscreen to take a brilliant catch just feet from the boundary. A typical finger-on-lips celebration followed, but given that the crowd was cheering on Royal Challengers from the start, it was unclear as to who that was directed towards. Nair who played a match-winning knock against Sunrisers, was sent back for 11 with Yuzvendra Chahal striking in his opening over again. That broke the 31-run stand between Nair and de Kock, who were rebuilding after the early wicket.
Chahal bowled tight lines, didn’t hesitate to flight the ball and reaped dividends as he finished with three wickets to snatch the purple cap from Mitchell McClenaghan. Although Royal Challengers bowlers slacked off in the middle overs, bowling loose and giving away the easy singles to ease the pressure, it was the side’s intense fielding that lifted them up. Not to say that there were no lapses, but only one really cost them as de Kock went on to score 60 off 52.
Sanju Samson went after Chahal, smashing him for a massive six over long on – one that sailed 96 metres – and for a boundary in the tenth over. Chahal then induced a feather with a short delivery which Rahul sharply pouched, leaving the batsman distraught. Replays confirmed that there was a nick as Delhi had 75 at the halfway stage.
De Kock timed the ball beautifully for five fours and one six. With Kohli populating the boundary against the left-hander, de Kock managed to keep rotating the strike with ease, reaching his second half-century of the season off 43 balls.
Another piece of brilliance in the field came from unexpected quarters as Gayle dived to his right at backward point off a cut to send back a disappointed Sam Billings, who replaced JP Duminy, cheaply. Negi, who fetched 8.5 crore at the auctions, had a disappointing season with just 57 runs in eight games. On the day, in a dj vu moment of the Shakib al Hasan drop against Kolkata Knight Riders, Negi was handed a life by Aravind at third man when he was batting on 2.
However, Negi and Brathwaite fell in the same over off Gayle with the bowler breaking into a little jig. De Villiers’s catch of Negi was number 18 – the highest in an IPL season. While de Kock was angered by himself, who, in an attempted loft was pouched by Jordan running in from long off, Morris’s 18-bll 27 cameo took them to a modest total.
Royal Challengers will now play the first qualifier against Gujarat Lions in Bangalore on Tuesday (May 24).